The parents of a dead newborn found in a North Miami dumpster more than a year ago will receive $28 million after a jury decided Thursday that the funeral home failed to properly take care of the boy's body.
“They were not in this case for the money,” said Neal Hirschfeld, the family's attorney, referring to the boy’s parents. “They were in this case to send a message that this should never happen to another family.”
On Sept. 5, 2014, a homeless man rummaging for food in a dumpster behind the U-Gas Station at 5235 NW Seventh Ave. made the grisly discovery of a baby boy with an ankle tag inside a cardboard box.
The man told a gas station employee who called police. Police immediately cordoned off the area to investigate. All they had was the tag to go by.
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By later that day, police said that Jarren Hood, the son of the owner of Carey Royal Ram’n Funeral Home, had told officers that he was tasked with taking the baby from Mount Sinai to his family’s crematorium. Instead, he told police, he went home and someone broke into his van and stole the box containing the boy.
Meanwhile, police traced the baby to his parents Raul Manzano and Catheryne Lucero. The boy, whom they named David, was born Sept. 1 and died shortly after birth. The parents signed a contract with Carey Royal Ram’n to have their son cremated.
Hirschfeld said it wasn’t until police knocked on the door of their Doral home to tell them they found their son’s body that they knew he never made it.
“The really bad part is the parents had been watching the reports in the media and were thinking what a tragedy this is,” Hirschfeld said. “They were so distraught.”
Manzano and Lucero filed a formal complaint with the state’s Division of Funeral, Cemetery and Consumer Services.
“As you can understand we are totally devastated by this and want to take some steps so that no other parents have to go through what we are going through,” Manzano wrote in the complaint. “That Friday all the news channels were broadcasting the story of my baby found at the gas station, which made the situation worse.”
In May 2015, a state probable cause panel found that Hood had “committed negligence, incompetency or misconduct in the transportation of the remains of a stillborn baby resulting in the remains being found in a dumpster after allegedly being stolen from the transportation vehicle.”
The panel determined that the funeral home broke state law, and the home was fined, according to Hirschfeld. Records show that Hood was only charged with resisting arrest and did not face any other charges tied to the incident.
State records show the Carey Royal Ram’n Funeral Home is still an active corporation. A woman who answered the phone “Carey Royal” said she only answered phones and couldn’t speak for the company. No one returned a call from a Miami Herald reporter. A man who said he was not Hood answered Hood’s listed number.
Hirschfeld said no one from the defense team appeared at the civil trial. He said the case is meant to show “the funeral home industry and the death care industry generally that they owe respect for the dead, to the living they owe the truth and if they are caught doing neither or not both, they are going to be brought to justice.”