WATERBURY — The family of a Prospect woman is suing a funeral home who they claim is responsible for mistakenly swapping her body with another woman’s in a mixup.
More than 100 people attended the wake of Aurelie Germaine Tuccillo at the Buckmiller Brothers Funeral Home in 2009, shortly after her death on Christmas Eve of that year.
The problem was Tuccillo wasn’t the woman in the casket on display in the Prospect funeral home, according to a suit filed in Waterbury Superior Court.
Tuccillo’s family is asking for unspecified amount in damages, claiming the funeral home cremated their mother against her last wishes, then displayed another woman’s body to guests while insisting the woman was Tuccillo.
Wayne Buckmiller, a funeral director, and David Buckmiller, an embalmer, are named in the suit, which was filed on behalf of a list of family members, including Tuccillo’s two sons, Ralph and Daniel.
Tuccillo died on Dec. 24, 2009, and her family made arrangements to have her buried next to her husband’s burial plot in Calvary Cemetery in Waterbury. She was 95 and had been living at a Waterbury senior home during her last days.
Part of a large family, Tuccillo and her husband had run a fried pizza concession stand in West Haven.
The suit claims that the funeral home was given specific instructions on preparing her body. Its employees were given Tuccillo’s favorite pink dress and a photo of her so they could fix her hair and makeup.
On the day of the wake, family members assembled at the funeral home, only to find a woman lying in the casket who they suspected wasn’t Tuccillo. By that point, Tuccillo’s friends and family had arrived for the wake, praying and paying last respects to a complete stranger, the suit claims.
“During the wake, at least half the mourners commented to members of the Tuccillo family that the wrong body was on display,” the suit claims. “Their remarks ranged from the gentle, ‘It doesn’t look like her’ to the incredulous, ‘that’s not Germaine.’”
The family claims the Buckmillers insisted the woman in the casket, later identified as 82-year-old Shirley Hollis, was in fact Tuccillo. The suit claims that David Buckmiller told the family that “embalming can make a body ‘look different.’”
David Buckmiller tried to close the casket before the wake was completed, but was told to leave it open by the family.
After the wake, the family examined the body, finding that the woman didn’t have a surgical scar on her right thigh, nor did she have a dental bridge, two signs that the woman in the casket wasn’t their mother, the suit states.
The family later learned that Tuccillo had been cremated in Oxford, which was against her religious beliefs as a Roman Catholic, according to the suit.
Within the complaint, the family’s attorney, Jonathan Katz, states the family retrieved a pacemaker from a body cremated earlier that day, finding that its serial number matched that of a unit used by Tuccillo.
The family went an additional step by having Tuccillo’s orthopedic surgeon examine screws that were taken from the cremated remains given to the family. The suit states that the doctor gave his opinion that it was “extremely likely” he had implanted them in Tuccillo’s hip.
Tuccillo’s cremated remains were eventually buried about five months later during a second service in Cavalry Cemetery.
The suit claims the family was put through intentional emotional distress and was forced to pay a variety of expenses, including the cost of the second service.
The funeral home, which is based in Naugatuck and has a location in Prospect, was ordered to pay a $10,000 civil penalty to the state last year following a state investigation. Wayne Buckmiller also was ordered to pay a penalty of $2,000 in connection with the mixup, according to a state consent order.
Licenses for the Buckmillers are currently listed as “active” on state records, but neither man is listed under licensed staff on the company’s website.