Downard investigation hazmat (general date)

Emergency responders, two wearing HAZMAT suits, are pictured outside of Downard Funeral Home in Pocatello earlier this month.

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Idaho’s occupational licensing division received a complaint last month that an unrefrigerated decomposing body was observed inside Downard Funeral Home and another was located in one of the funeral home’s vehicles in a body bag, according to a Tuesday report from the Idaho Division of Occupational and Professional Licenses.

The report, which the Idaho State Journal obtained Tuesday, details the state licensing division’s investigative actions and the resolution of the case. Ultimately, the current licenses for owner Lance Peck to operate Downard Funeral Home and the Portneuf Valley Crematory contained inside, including any rights to renew the licenses, have been permanently revoked, according to the report.

An inspector with the Idaho Division of Occupational and Professional Licenses conducted an annual routine inspection of the crematory inside Downard Funeral Home on March 24, 2021, the report states. During the inspection, Peck advised the investigator that “an explosion had occurred during the last cremation which caused major damage to the retort floor and caused the fire door to stay shut,” according to the DOPL report.

A retort is the chamber where the actual cremation of a body takes place. The DOPL report does not state exactly when the explosion occurred. At the time of the explosion, Downard was in possession of six cadavers that Idaho State University had returned to the funeral home after the bodies were used for its anatomical donation program, the DOPL report states.

The investigator noted in report that there was no discernible smell at the funeral home, all records were in order and the refrigeration unit was functioning at 30 degrees.

Peck informed the investigator on March 24 that he had been placed on a waiting list to have the crematory retort repaired, and an administrative assistant with the funeral home told investigators on April 30 and June 16 that they were still awaiting repairs, the report says. On July 29, the administrative assistant told investigators the repairs would begin on Aug. 23, according to the report.

Before the repairs could begin, however, DOPL received a complaint from a person alleging that when their mother died on Jan. 18, 2016, Peck had assured them that the mother’s remains were provided to ISU’s anatomical donation program for scientific use per the person’s wishes, the report says. Peck informed the individual that ISU would keep the body for the next five years. In January 2021, the complainant attempted to contact Peck numerous times and never received a response, the DOPL report says. When contacted, ISU told the individual that their mother’s body was provided back to Downard on April 7, 2017, though the family never received the body, according to the report.

The DOPL report also lists a complaint from ISU on Aug. 9 that details concerns the school uncovered regarding its relationship with Downard. The concerns resulted in ISU conducting an internal audit after uncovering troubling details related to missing bodies that were supposed to be donated from Downard to ISU but never were.

From about 1996 until May 2020, ISU had an exclusive agreement with Downard Funeral Home in reference to receiving bodies from individuals who wished their remains be donated for scientific uses.

Due to a lack of donated bodies, ISU first worked with the University of Utah and then entered into a new agreement with another Pocatello funeral home to receive anatomical donations.

When ISU ended its relationship with Downard, the school sent letters to individuals who had signed forms indicating the intent to donate a body to science.

After the letters were sent, ISU received a response from two families stating they never received the cremated remains of their loved ones after the bodies were donated to ISU, the DOPL report states.

Additionally, ISU records indicate one body had been returned to Downard for final cremation on April 7, 2017, but the family informed ISU that they never received the cremains, the report states. Two families informed ISU that Peck told them the remains of their loved ones were being donated to the school, but ISU had no record of receiving the remains, according to the report.

The report also states ISU has completed intent to donate forms for four individuals whose obituaries stated that their remains were donated to ISU and Downard handled the arrangements, but ISU has no record of receiving the individuals’ remains. ISU was able to locate obituaries for six additional individuals stating that their remains were donated to the school and that Downard handled the arrangements, but ISU does not have an intent to donate form for any of the individuals and there is no record of ISU receiving the remains from Downard, the report states.

On Aug. 31, a DOPL investigator received reports of an “overwhelming foul odor” coming from Downard, and that a decomposing body was left “on the table of the prep room that had been visible through a window to passersby for a number of days, including high school students from the high school located near the funeral home, and another decomposing body in one of the funeral home’s vehicles in a body bag,” the report states.

The DOPL investigator visited Downard the same day and found the building locked, though the rear overhead garage door was open and a strong odor could be detected in the garage area, according to the report.

The windows were covered and the investigator was unable to see a decomposing body in the prep room, the report states. The investigator contacted Peck by phone, who said he was out of town but would be available to meet the following morning at the funeral home, the report states.

The investigator also contacted the Bannock County Coroner’s Office concerning the odor and the report of the decomposing body.

On Sept. 1, the DOPL investigator conducted an inspection of Downard and the crematory inside and found one badly decomposed body in the drive-thru garage which, according to Peck, had been in the garage for approximately one month, the report states, adding that Peck was informed he needed to immediately secure the body in the refrigeration unit, which he did.

The investigator began reviewing documentation relating to the bodies that were in the refrigeration unit and the cremains located in the funeral home, and later made arrangements to continue the document review the following day, according to the report.

On Sept. 2, the investigator entered Downard, checked the temperature of the refrigeration unit, and reviewed additional documentation in an attempt to verify the identity of each of the 10 bodies in the refrigeration unit and the cremains located in the funeral home, the report states.

The investigator then walked into the drive-thru garage and observed the floor and multiple body boxes appeared to be covered in human decomposition material, and another badly decomposed body was in a plastic bag, according to the report.

Peck informed the investigator that he had multiple fetuses in various stages of development, which resulted in DOPL staff immediately contacting the Pocatello Police Department. ISU announced last week that it had donated 61 specimens to Downard for cremation that were part of a biological collection showing the various stages of fetal development.

On Sept. 8, Pocatello police told the DOPL that the Idaho State Police Forensic Services office was assisting the agency in determining the identities of six unidentified individuals removed from Downard Funeral Home using fingerprints and DNA.

As of Tuesday evening, the Pocatello police investigation remains ongoing, the report states.

In addition to the revocation of his licenses, which Peck had previously surrendered voluntarily on Sept. 2, Peck was ordered to pay nearly $5,000 in investigative costs and if at any time Peck attempts to apply for a license in the future, he must provide information as if he was a first-time applicant and “shall appear in front of the Idaho Board of Morticians to discuss the details surrounding the factual events” contained within the DOPL report beforehand, the report states.

On Monday, Pocatello police said all but one of the 12 bodies recovered from Downard had been positively identified and asked for the public’s help in identifying the last body.

Officials described the final body awaiting identification as a woman in her 60s to 70s who had a curly, dark-grey wig. She had pink acrylic or press-on fingernails and was wearing a shirt with the words, “I’m a BEAR in the morning.” She also had a purple medical port on her chest. Authorities estimate she had been in the facility for about two weeks prior to Sept. 3.

Anyone with information about the remaining body is asked to call Pocatello Police Department at 208-234-6121 or the Bannock County Coroner’s Office at 208-236-7377.

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