MODESTO — Seventeen bodies were removed from a downtown Modesto funeral home Friday after accusations that the business was taking too long to cremate them.
Dr. John Walker, Stanislaus County's public health officer, said he suspended permits for burial or cremation to McGuire Cremation & Funeral Service as of May 1 in response to several complaints "regarding delays in cremation of family members."
Sgt. Anthony Bejaran, the sheriff's spokesman, said there has been an investigation into potential criminal and civil violations with the business for the past several months. He would not say what criminal charges could come of the investigation or even if anyone was arrested Friday.
Local officials reported the problems to the state Funeral Board.
The bodies were removed by personnel from the Stanislaus County coroner's office Friday afternoon. The brief statement issued by the Sheriff's Department did not indicate how long the bodies had been at the small funeral home on Seventh Street.
Coroner's officials will assist family members with the final disposition of their loved ones.
Jessica Montoya-Juarez, communicable disease manager for the Stanislaus County Health Services Agency, said while the county stopped issuing permits for burial or cremation to McGuire, "We still are issuing death certificates."
Presumably, McGuire could still perform funeral services but can't handle disposition of any bodies until the matter is resolved.
Montoya-Juarez said authorities looked into the funeral home after receiving complaints and noticed some problems with the time between the issuance of permits and their completion, which also is filed with the county.
There also were problems with collecting payment for the permits, which cost $11 each.
Suspending permits is highly unusual.
"I know from speaking with our public health officer this is the first time that we've had to do it in 12 years," Montoya-Juarez said.
The funeral home is located at 1101 Seventh St. Its business office is listed at 400 12th St., according to its website.
There was nobody at either location on Friday afternoon. A black, wrought-iron gate was locked on Seventh Street. A hearse could been seen from the sidewalk. There was a "For Lease" sign at the 12th Street location.
Its website lists cremation prices ranging from $425 to $1,725.
Montoya-Juarez said the funeral home operator would have to clear up all concerns over the way it handles bodies before the county would consider issuing permits again.
Breaking News Editor Patty Guerra can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2343. Follow her on Twitter, @pattyguerra.