Family sues claiming father's face disfigured before funeral

LENOIR, NC — Shelly Oxford has happy memories of her father Terry Lee Oxford.

"He would always smile," she recalled.

When a sudden heart attack claimed his life in May 2016, Oxford and her sister say they chose Pendry's Lenoir Funeral Home.

It would be what she now calls a nightmare experience. She claims the staff refused to let the family see the body before the visitation and required it be embalmed - something she says her father did not want.

A licensed cosmetologist, Oxford also wanted to cut her father's hair before the visitation, but was devastated to learn someone else had already done it.

"Being able to cut his hair that one last time would have been very special," she explained.

But her shock didn't stop there.

"I knew something was wrong. It was so overwhelming to see his face," she recalled.

Oxford says it didn't look like her father at all.

"I saw this indention in his head and his nose and I was so mad. [But] what do you do when you have people everywhere?" she said.

For months, Oxford tried to figure out what had happened. Finally, she had her father’s remains exhumed and says an examiner determined he was injured after his death.

Now, Oxford and her sister have filed a lawsuit naming Pendry's Lenoir Funeral Home and its parent company Service Corporation International, which owns 2,000 funeral homes across 45 states.

Amongst the claims in the lawsuit are that Pendry's attempted to conceal the damage to Terry Lee Oxford's face and fraudulently signed the plaintiffs' names on a document.

We never got to identify dad there and it had my name and my sister's, and that's not something we signed," said Oxford.

We tried to question staff at Pendry's about the case but were told they couldn't talk to reporters. The company did give us this statement:

"Due to pending litigation and out of respect for the Oxford family, we are unable to share any details on this matter."

Oxford told us that after her experience she wants other families to know their rights, including:

  • Funeral homes cannot refuse to handle caskets or urns purchased elsewhere
  • Embalming is rarely required by law
  • Funeral homes must give you a general price list that states your right to choose what you want in writing

Oxford's lawsuit claims embalming shouldn't have been required in her father's death.

"I could have had him removed and taken somewhere else," she said. "I feel cheated because the last little bit of time that we could have spent with dad we couldn't."

The North Carolina Funeral Board told it is has received three complaints about Pendry's Lenoir Funeral Home.

Two of them, made in 2004 and 2010, were dismissed. The third, also made in 2010, resulted in the board issuing a caution letter to the funeral home over a pricing issue. Pendry's passed its most recent routine inspection in 2016.

If you'd like more information on your rights when planning a funeral, go to https://funerals.org/