The Bailey-Kent Funeral Home faced a temporary shutdown Oct. 2 after the Lake County Sheriff’s Office found biowaste and disheveled facilities in the combined business and home while executing a search warrant.
The Lake County Sheriff’s Office (LCSO) secured the search warrant on Sept. 30 to investigate a complaint made to Sheriff Amy Reyes at the beginning of the year.
According to a series of redacted LCSO reports acquired by the Herald, a local mother contacted the funeral home in December of last year after the loss of an infant. The parents wanted the child’s remains cremated and returned to them, which, according to the mother’s statement to LCSO, the funeral home promised to have done by Dec. 20, 2019.
After the initial conversation, during which the mother signed a document approving the services to be rendered, Bailey-Kent Funeral Home operators Shannon and Staci Kent did not return the mother’s calls for the next 11 days, according to call records cited in Reyes’ report. The mother began to have misgivings about the interaction.
On Dec. 23, the cremains of what she believed to be her child were delivered to her without a death certificate or paperwork explaining a chain of custody for the child’s remains. This struck the mother as incorrect, and she petitioned the Kents to provide documentation to verify she had gotten the correct remains.
While Colorado does not require documentation explaining the chain of custody when cremains are delivered, it is industry standard to provide a death certificate and a cremation permit that certifies the contents of the cremains, Jacobe Payne at the South Denver location of Horan & McConaty, a funeral home and crematory, told the Herald.
After receiving the ashes without documentation, the family grew more concerned when they saw the amount of material present in the remains they had received — an amount that outsized the urn they had purchased to house the ashes they were expecting.
The family contacted the Kents with their concerns, and, according to Reyes’ report, were told they would have to take the Kents at their word that the remains they had received were in fact their child’s.
The poor communication, lack of documentation, amount of the ashes received, and a contentious call between the family and Shannon Kent prompted the mother to file a complaint with the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA) — the state department responsible for regulating funeral homes and crematories in Colorado. The mother had originally contacted Sheriff Reyes after filing the DORA complaint.
A few months later, LCSO Detective Sam Reynolds brought the child’s ashes to Melissa Connor, an associate professor in forensic anthropology at Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction, and William Hood, an operator of a X-ray diffraction lab at the same institution, to be analyzed. Both Connor and Hood have worked with the Federal Bureau of Investigation to help identify human remains.
Connor and Hood reported that the ashes contained a “minimum of two individuals, a prenatal infant and a larger individual” — findings that aligned with the mother’s suspicion that the remains outweighed the anticipated amount.
On Sept. 30, LCSO filed for a search warrant of the Bailey-Kent Funeral Home and the attached residence.
Two days later, Reynolds and Deputy Caleb Cramer, accompanied by members of the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office, arrived at the Kent’s home situated above the mortuary to serve the warrant.
Once inside, LCSO deputies found the business in a state of disrepair. According to Reynolds’ report, the deputies found bodily fluids on surfaces throughout the business and used medical equipment stacked on the floor, all of which made it difficult to navigate through the building. Reynolds also reported a “strong odor of unknown chemicals and decaying human remains.”
Five bodies were identified inside the funeral home in varying containers including body bags, cloth wrappings and caskets. Three of the bodies were in coolers; two of the bodies were at room temperature, later measured to be around 65 degrees.
Articles in the Colorado Revised Statutes require that mortuaries have sanitary facilities, employ “reasonable care” to minimize the risk of transmitting disease from human remains, and refrigerate, embalm, cremate, bury or entomb human remains within 24 hours of taking custody of them. Multiple sources told the Herald that Colorado has less stringent regulations governing the management of funeral homes and crematories than most states.
The maximum penalty upon conviction for breaking one of the state’s laws designed to govern mortuaries and crematories is a misdemeanor with a punishment of a $5,000 fine or 24 months imprisonment.
After seeing the conditions inside, LCSO called Leadville/ Lake County Fire Rescue (LLCFR), the Lake County Public Health Agency (LCPHA) and the Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to respond.
LLCFR Fire Marshal Steve Boyle declared the building unsafe to inhabitants and the public. Leadville/Lake County Building Official Paul Clarkson then signed an order, which was hung inside the mortuary’s door, requiring the facility to remain closed until the hazards were addressed.
Jackie Littlepage, environmental health director with LCPHA, responded and began to make arrangements with outside coroners and funeral homes to house the bodies. Colleen Nielsen, director of LCPHA, initially called on a refrigerated truck to come to the scene to transport the corpses, but later cancelled the call, according to Reynolds’ report.
CBI told LCSO they would respond once the reported biohazards were sufficiently addressed, though Reyes told the Herald that the agency did not end up responding.
According to Nielsen, LCPHA was only involved to assess the report of possible biohazards in the building. The agency determined that there was no such threat.
Seeing no biohazards, Nielsen, after consulting with Boyle, told LCSO that the residence and business were safe to return to.
According to Reynolds’ report, Nielsen did not assess the conditions found at the funeral home in person. The detective said that Nielsen told LCSO the state of the building had been “modeled,” claiming that only one room inside the building was in the condition LCSO reported to have found throughout much of the home and business.
Nielsen did not respond to questions posed by the Herald regarding LCPHA’s assessment of the funeral home or the removal of the closure order.
During the search, Reynolds and Cramer looked for information to verify that the remains returned to the mother who had brought the complaint to LCSO were those of her son. According to Reynolds’ report, neither could find documents related to the deceased child.
Once the search was complete and the closure order was removed, the home and business were returned to Shannon Kent’s custody. Currently, neither Shannon Kent nor Staci Kent have been charged with anything related to the complaint the mother filed, items found in the search, or the conditions found inside the business.
Neither Shannon Kent nor his attorney John Scott responded to the Herald’s requests for comment.