South Florida

Family Awarded $3.5 Million After Funeral Home Loses Ashes

A jury awarded a South Florida family $3.5 million Thursday, blaming a funeral home for mixing up their mother's ashes with someone else.

The state revoked the license for the funeral home permanently, but there's another one operating in the same location with the same owner and the same woman working inside, who the family blames for causing them so much pain.

Ronda Mitchell was in court hoping for answers as to what happened to their mother, 54-year-old Annie Hughes, who died two years ago.

"Right now I still cry for her," said Mitchell.

Hughes' body was turned over to the Taylor Smith West Funeral Home. Her family from Homestead and Belle Glade, where the funeral home was located, were in court Thursday in West Palm Beach.

The family's attorney, Vincent Paravato, says the ashes given back to the family in the box were not their mothers.

"They did not give her back her mom's remains," said Pavarato. "They strung her along, lied to her, fabricated documents, committed crimes, and five to six months later they gave her somebody else's remains. Basically a monster of a funeral home."

Two years ago the family started a search to find what happened to Hughes.

"Where is my sister, where is she?" asked Mayley Michel, Hughes' sister.

The place where the funeral home said, in their documents, the body was cremated never had Hughes' body.

"It's devastating. I don't have any closure, (but) I still have more questions," said Ronda Taylor, daughter of Hughes. "My mom's body is still out there. I don't know where she's at and it's heartbreaking."

The state revoked the funeral home's license calling it a danger to the public and said it delivered a body in a body bag wrapped in a blanket to a consumer. They added that on multiple occasions the funeral home provided consumers with incorrect remains.

"I can't imagine how many people are out there. The state closed them down and now they are back operating under a different name," says the family's attorney. "Stevens Funeral Home, I believe. Same actors, same location, same story."

NBC 6 went looking for the owners of the funeral home at an official address listed and ended up at the pack and ship store in Pompano Beach.

At at the funeral home itself, no one answered the door. A new name is outside, but when we called the woman we spoke with was Sonya Rumph, the same woman the family says handed them the wrong ashes.

"Justice, I want them to go to jail," said Taylor. "I want them to be closed down and I want everyone that was involved to be locked up, it's like they are still free to do it to other families."

NBC 6 asked the state how this could happen and it told us the license for the current funeral home was transferred there from another funeral home owned by the same company that didn’t have issues.

The jury awarded damages to punish the funeral home and prevent others from doing this and now attorney Paravato is on a mission to collect this money from the owners. Rumph had no comment and the lawyers for the funeral home did not show up Thursday.

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