Preston man sues county over father’s cremains

KINGWOOD — A man is suing the Preston County Sheriff’s Department and County Commission, saying they mishandled and lost his father’s cremains.

He is asking for compensatory damages, interest, attorney fees, costs and expenses. A jury trial is requested.

According to the suit filed in Preston Circuit Court last week, Byron Hawthorne, 31, is employed at Vapor Oil Field Services in Preston County. When his father died, he honored their shared love for his car by placing his cremated remains in a “commercially available” urn attached to a key chain.

“Mr. Hawthorne found comfort knowing that his father was with him when he drove his car and whenever the key chain with the urn were with him,” the suit says.

The key chain could be identified as Hawthorne’s because of an attached Kroger card, according to the lawsuit.

On June 25, Hawthorn misplaced the key chain at work, and another employee turned the keys over to the Preston Sheriff’s Department. On June 26, the sheriff’s department returned the key chain to Vapor Oil Field Services.

The key chain was returned, “without the urn attached to it and only a small fraction of Mr. Hawthorne’s father’s cremains were present and were in a latex glove.”

When Hawthorne called the sheriff’s department, he said he was told that police know narcotics are sometimes placed in urns intended for cremains, so his father’s were tested for narcotics. The result was negative, and the urn was placed in a trash bin, according to the suit.

Chief Deputy P.A. Pritt apologized to Hawthorne, according to the suit, but he continues to suffer from mental anguish and outrage. “The emotional distress suffered by Mr. Hawthorne is so severe that no reasonable person should be expected to endure it,” the suit says.

The department was not under any emergency when the test was performed, was negligent and breached due care, Hawthorne contends in the suit. He is being represented by attorney Matthew P. Crimmel, of Morgantown.

County Commission President Craig Jennings and Deputy Pritt said Monday the commission and sheriff’s department have no comment on pending litigation.

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