Two families file suit against Ryder, offering more details on mishandling of loved ones

Last modified: Friday, June 13, 2014
NORTHAMPTON — A 14-page, multicount lawsuit filed this week offers new insight into distress suffered by the relatives of deceased loved ones who were mishandled by Ryder Funeral Home owner William W. Ryder, whose license was suspended May 28.

The families of Jeanette Modelewski, who died May 1 at Holy Family Care Center in Holyoke, and Nancy Wyllie, who died May 21 at her Chicopee home, filed the lawsuit in Hampshire Superior Court.

In an affidavit prepared by Modelewski’s daughter, Joan Tremblay of Naples, Florida, Tremblay states she learned May 31 that her mother’s body, which she believed had been cremated around the time of her May 1 death, was still languishing in the Ryder Funeral Home when investigators discovered multiple bodies in various states of decomposition.

“I was in a state of shock, upset, and was emotionally devastated,” Tremblay stated in the affidavit accompanying the lawsuit. “Almost an entire month had passed since my mother’s death and we believed that her body had been cremated. I am shocked, disgusted, and emotionally distraught that my mother’s body was left in such a state for almost a month.”

Also named as a plaintiff in the suit is Dorothy Dougherty of West Springfield, who is Joan Tremblay’s sister. Reached by phone Wednesday, Dougherty declined to comment on the lawsuit or what transpired at the Ryder Funeral Home, but did file an affidavit along with the suit.

“Upon discovering what happened to my mother’s body, I became hysterical,” Dougherty said in the affidavit. “I was in a state of shock, emotionally devastated and was shaking, crying and pacing.”

She also said she was equally distraught “that I discovered this situation from the newspaper and that no one had called our family to notify us.”

Dougherty said she was contacted May 30 by the funeral director who took over handling her mother’s service because “no one could locate Mr. Ryder,” according to the affidavit.

That director — unnamed in the affidavit — said that Ryder’s paperwork was “a mess,” and that the state had stepped in and Dougherty’s mother would be cremated the following day.

Dougherty said she assumed that meant there was a scheduling or some other logistical issue that was causing the delay but that her mother’s body was being cared for appropriately in the meantime, according to the affidavit.

Other plaintiffs are James Wyllie of California and Arline Wyllie of South Hadley, who are the brother and daughter of Nancy Wyllie. Reached by phone Wednesday, Arline Wyllie declined to comment.

In his affidavit, James Wyllie claims his sister’s body was delivered to Ryder shortly after her death on May 21. He states that he had prepaid in full for his sister’s funeral May 23 and was informed after her May 29 funeral that she still had not been cremated.

“Over a week had passed since my sister’s death and we had believed she had been cremated, or at least, properly cared for in the interim,” Wyllie said in his two-page affidavit with the court filings.

He also said he was “shocked and disgusted” that his sister’s remains “were left in such a state to allow them to decompose and that we were not notified of the situation until after her service.”

The suit was filed by attorneys Paul Rothschild and Mark Tanner, both of Springfield. It seeks unspecified damages. It also asks for a judge to prohibit Ryder from selling the business and liquidating his assets.

In a telephone interview Wednesday, Rothschild said his clients are “very distressed,” about what happened to their relatives once in the care of Ryder.

“To find that your parent has died and then to find out they’ve been lying in waste in some room in a building is awful,” he said.

Ryder’s license to operate the 51-year-old business was suspended last month after an inspection revealed six bodies were improperly stored or in varying states of decomposition.

Two more bodies were delivered to the home and accepted by Ryder after he was instructed by the Massachusetts Board of Registration of Funeral Directors and Embalmers to accept no more bodies, and the attempted delivery of a ninth body was made during the morning of the inspection.

Other area funeral directors stepped in to oversee funerals at Ryder that were already pending when the license was suspended.

The suit alleges 16 counts including intentional, reckless and negligent interferences with a dead body, breach of contract and negligent infliction of emotional distress.

Two messages left Wednesday for Ryder’s attorney, Paul Boudreau of South Hadley, were not immediately returned.

According to the suit, the body of Tremblay’s mother was received by Ryder on May 1 and was found on May 28, “in a state of decomposition in a body bag,” and was not properly embalmed.

The body of Wyllie’s sister was found in a similar state, partially decomposed in an unsealed body bag, and also not properly embalmed, stored in the funeral home’s garage, not in a refrigeration unit or in the embalming room.

The suit also seeks a temporary restraining order to prevent Ryder from selling the business or otherwise liquidating the assets. A hearing is scheduled in Hampshire Superior Court at 2 p.m. Friday.

According to the suit, Ryder may not be carrying liability insurance that would satisfy any financial award in the plaintiffs’ favor. “We have no idea what equity there is any of this stuff,” Rothschild said. “We don’t even know for sure if they’re selling it.”

He added, “We figure if our clients are entitled to compensation, we’re better off trying to preserve the assets now.”

Tremblay said in her affidavit she contacted Ryder multiple times for information regarding her mother’s funeral. Each time, she said, she was told by Ryder’s answering service he would call back within the hour, which he never did, according to the affidavit.

The family only learned of the issues surrounding Ryder’s license from media reports in the wake of the inspection, Rothschild said.

Following that inspection, the board suspended Ryder’s license.

Bob Dunn can be reached at bdunn@gazettenet.com.