Coronavirus News: Brooklyn funeral home that stored bodies in unrefrigerated trucks has license suspended

FLATLANDS, Brooklyn (WABC) -- New York state has suspended the license of a funeral home in Brooklyn that was found to be storing bodies in unrefrigerated trailers outside the business.

Police and the health department were called to the Andrew T. Cleckley Funeral Services on Utica Avenue in the Flatlands section on Wednesday after neighbors complained about a foul odor.

They reportedly found two trucks outside each containing 50 bodies.

"Following an investigation by the State Department of Health, I issued an immediate suspension order to the Andrew T. Cleckley Funeral Home in Brooklyn, whose actions were appalling, disrespectful to the families of the deceased, and completely unacceptable," Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said. "Funeral homes have a responsibility to manage their capacity appropriately and provide services in a respectful and competent manner. We understand the burden funeral homes are facing during this unprecedented time. That's why the state previously issued an order allowing out of state funeral home directors to assist during this crisis and took steps to ease administrative hurdles. But a crisis is no excuse for the kind of behavior we witnessed at Andrew T. Cleckley Funeral Home, and we are holding them accountable for their actions."

Unrefrigerated trucks are not considered appropriate storage for bodies and are unnecessary, as the city had obtained freezer trucks to temporarily hold bodies for overwhelmed funeral homes until arrangements are finalized.

Upon learning of the situation, the city sent the proper storage equipment to hold the bodies. City and state officials helped transfer the bodies to those refrigerated trucks provided by the city.

Mayor Bill de Blasio on Thursday called the situation "completely unacceptable" and said steps would be taken to prevent another such incident.

"I have no idea how any funeral home could let this happen," he said. "Why on earth did they not alert the state...go to their NYPD precinct and ask for help. Do something rather than leave the bodies there."

Neighbors indicated to Eyewitness News that they witnessed the bodies being placed into the unrefrigerated trucks on and off for a month -- not in caskets but in body bags.

The owner of the funeral home indicated to city officials that its freezer stopped working.

Funeral homes are regulated by the state, but de Blasio said he supported an idea for a citywide bereavement committee as suggested by Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams.

"I think it's a good idea," he said. "The city does not have a direct relationship with funeral homes...It's not an area we work with a lot, but we all have to work together to solve problems....It is unconscionable. We will all work together. I think what Borough President Adams is saying is smart. Get everyone talking to each other, bring in clergy, who obviously bring so much perspective about what families need at this moment. I think that's a good idea, and we will find a way to create something like that."

The state health department is investigating, and summonses are expected for improper handling of human remains.
The NYPD closed the street for crowd control and to keep people away because of the risk of infection from bodies not stored in appropriate conditions. No criminality is suspected

The investigation is ongoing.

MORE CORONAVIRUS COVID-19 COVERAGE


COVID-19 Help, Information and Resources

UPDATES
Grieving the lost: Tri-State residents who have died
New York state
New Jersey
Connecticut

Long Island


RELATED INFORMATION
Share your coronavirus story with Eyewitness News
Stimulus check scams and other coronavirus hoaxes
Coronavirus prevention: how clean are your hands?
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on coronavirus
Total count of NYC COVID-19 cases based on patient address

Copyright © 2020 WABC-TV. All Rights Reserved.