Without money for burial, relatives kept body in SUV. Royse City neighbors called police, but no law broken, officials say.
By the time he was 50, Larry Bennett had been on life support three times, had several strokes, lost his job because of his health and spent all the money from his six-figure income on medical expenses for him and his family. The calamities continued even after his Feb. 26 death. Before his family found money for the building inspector's burial, his embalmed body was put in the back of his family's SUV in the driveway of his Royse City home for two days.
For those two days, "the phone rang off the wall with calls such as, 'How ... can you all be so cold-hearted and keep Larry in that vehicle in front of your home?'" said Brenda Pitts Bennett, who had let Mr. Bennett live with her for years even though they were divorced in 1995.
The answer: Mr. Bennett's family didn't know what else to do.
"We had to load him in the vehicle and had to take him home as we had to try and figure out what to do next," she wrote in an e-mail.
Mr. Bennett was finally buried March 10 with the help of some donations at the Independent Order of Odd Fellows Cemetery in Farmersville, Ms. Bennett's hometown.
She said they received so many phone calls from neighbors that they took their phone off the hook. People then came over and said they were calling the police about the body.
Royse City police received numerous calls about the body, Sgt. Jim Baker said. But the body wasn't removed because no law was violated.
A Hurst man recently was charged with three misdemeanors and accused of storing three corpses in a van in front of his house.
In that case, Donald Short, the owner of a mortuary services company, was arrested March 11 and charged with three counts of abuse of a corpse. Mr. Short had been shuffling the bodies from place to place since 2000, when the bodies were supposed to be cremated, his attorney has said. Police believe those bodies had been stored in the van since at least December.
But Sgt. Baker said Ms. Bennett's situation in Royse City was different.
"They [Mr. Short's mortuary service company] were paid to perform a service on the deceased and didn't perform the service that was paid for," Sgt. Baker said.
Because Ms. Bennett was a relative and Mr. Bennett's body was embalmed, there was no health issue, Sgt. Baker said.
"It was believed to be safe, and the family had a right to claim it," he said.
Mr. Bennett's cause of death is pending toxicology reports. His former wife said he died of complications of Lyme disease, a bacterial disease spread by ticks.
When Mr. Bennett died, Ms. Bennett went to Rockwall County to get money for a burial. County Judge Bill Bell said the county allows up to $1,000 for cremation of paupers.
Ms. Bennett wrote that she took the $1,000 to a funeral home because she thought it would pay for a burial instead of cremation, but she later was told that it wouldn't be enough.
They "made us pick Larry's body up or they would send him to lost and found," she said.
An official at the funeral home where Ms. Bennett said she first took the body said they had no record of Ms. Bennett.
She said the experience was horrifying, especially for her 28-year-old daughter, Chanda.
"We did not know ... what to do, but this tore my daughter up, to have her dad in the vehicle in our front yard," she wrote.
People started driving by the home just to look at the body, which was in a bag.
Ms. Bennett wrote that the treatment from the community has been disheartening.
"Everyone acted like I was insane. ... I know they could not have come up with the money at all to afford a funeral for their loved one, yet they wanted to condemn us," she wrote. Ms. Bennett wrote that she is without a phone now.
Michelle Mendoza, who lives on Ms. Bennett's street, said she sympathizes.
"It is a lot to bury someone," she said.
A version of this story also appears in the Rockwall-Rowlett Morning News.
Dallas Morning News, The (TX) Date: March 18, 2005 Author: LaKISHA LADSON Edition: SECOND Page: 1B Record Number: 1600015176 (c) Copyright, 2005, The Dallas Morning News