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Improperly stored bodies get funeral rites

South Hadley residents reacted with shock and sadness Saturday to the news that the Ryder Funeral Home has been shut down after a state investigation revealed health code violations, including bodies in various states of decomposition after not being properly embalmed.
(Gazette/Bob Dunn)

South Hadley residents reacted with shock and sadness Saturday to the news that the Ryder Funeral Home has been shut down after a state investigation revealed health code violations, including bodies in various states of decomposition after not being properly embalmed. (Gazette/Bob Dunn)

SOUTH HADLEY — Seven of eight bodies discovered by state authorities in various states of decomposition last week at Ryder Funeral Home in South Hadley have been cremated, while a ninth body has been laid to rest.

Chris Powers, a funeral director at Czelusniak Funeral Home in Northampton, said one body remains to be cremated as soon as paperwork and other arrangements are made.

Powers said his business stepped in last week to help complete arrangements already in progress by funeral director William H. Ryder of Ryder Funeral Home. Ryder’s license was suspended Friday after an investigation cited health code violations, including bodies not being properly embalmed and stored.

“We’ve secured them in a dignified manner and contacted each family,” Powers said.

He said funeral services have been held for six of the people, with three more scheduled in the next few days. Powers said Czelusniak worked with investigators from the state Division of Professional Licensure and the Northwestern district attorney’s office to identify the people, then met with each family to go over the arrangements.

“In some cases we were a sounding board for families who were upset, and in others we were a shoulder to cry on,” Powers said.

Most of the cremations took place Saturday at the Springfield Cemetery and Crematory under the direction of general manager James Mooney. The cremations occurred following a meeting held Saturday afternoon that included Joseph Cahill, a medical investigator for the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, Powers said.

Paul Phaneuf, a funeral director from St. Pierre-Phaneuf Funeral Chapels in Springfield and Chicopee, also lent a hand with arrangements over the last week.

While this work to handle arrangements continues, the decision by the Massachusetts Board of Registration of Funeral Directors and Embalmers to suspend Ryder’s license also stopped his Lamb Street business from accepting new business. The state licensure division has set a hearing for Friday, when officials are expected to determine whether Ryder’s license should remain suspended.

Investigators from the state board visited the funeral home last Wednesday and found numerous violations deemed to affect the health, safety and welfare of the public and necessitate the suspension.

Ryder’s attorney, Paul Boudreau of South Hadley, has said that Ryder has “significant health issues” that have affected his ability to provide services and meet obligations under his license. He has declined to elaborate on what those health issues are. Ryder himself has been unavailable for comment.

Investigators found six bodies that had not been properly embalmed and were not in the embalming/prep room or in a refrigeration unit. One of the bodies was delivered May 1, and the funeral home took possession of the other bodies between May 20 and 22.

The bodies were found to be in varying states of decomposition. Some were wrapped in blankets, sheets or body bags, according to documents filed with the Division of Professional Licensure.

According to the report, two additional bodies were delivered to the funeral home and accepted by Ryder after a board investigator told him not to do so — and an attempt to deliver another body was made during the morning of the inspection.

Ryder faces several other violations in the licensing board’s order, including failure to maintain proper paperwork for the bodies found as part of the investigation and engaging in fraud, deceit and misrepresentation.

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