Polis signs funeral home inspection bill in response to alleged ‘atrocities’ of Kent Funeral Home in Gypsum
Rep. Dylan Roberts and Sen. Kerry Donovan are co-sponsors of bill
A bill drafted in “direct response to instances of funeral home malpractice” in institutions like the Kent Funeral Home in Gypsum was signed into law Monday by Colorado Gov. Jared Polis.
The legislation expands the authority of the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies when it comes to inspecting and investigating funeral homes and crematories based on complaints of misconduct or malpractice, according to a press release issued Monday.
“This law is a direct response to instances of funeral home malpractice in multiple Western Slope funeral homes, including Kent Funeral Homes in Leadville and Gypsum, and will go into effect in August 2022,” the release states.
“This law is for my constituents, some of whom were terribly harmed, by making sure (the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies) has the power to investigate and prevent funeral home malpractice and atrocities,” Rep. Dylan Roberts, D-Avon, said in the release. Roberts co-sponsored the bill in the Colorado House of Representatives.
Former Lake County coroner Shannon Kent and his wife Staci Kent, ran Kent Funeral Home in Gypsum until the state ordered them to suspend operations in 2020.
In December of 2019, a client of the funeral home’s Leadville operation contacted the facility to arrange for the cremation of a stillborn child, according to a state report. The client reported that the Leadville funeral home did not provide written notice that the cremation services would be performed at the Gypsum location. Furthermore, the cremains were only provided to the client after several calls to follow up, were not labeled upon delivery and were later found to contain “recognizable elements of a perinatal human infant, long bone fragments of an older/larger adult, and metal,” according to the report.
“I wish we did not have to pass bills like this but I am thankful we got this done and passed in a bipartisan way,” Roberts said in the release. “The horrendous incidents in Gypsum, Leadville, Montrose and elsewhere made this necessary. This law will make it easier for state agencies to identify negligence in funeral homes and crematories so no more families in Colorado will have to endure the heartbreak caused by the Kent Funeral Homes and others in our state.”
The bill was sponsored in the Colorado Senate by Sen.Kerry Donovan, D-Vail, another Eagle County local with knowledge of the consequences that a lack of oversight in funeral homes has had on residents.
Shannon and Staci Kent were arrested last February after investigators found a badly decomposed unrefrigerated body, bags of unlabeled cremated remains and an abandoned stillborn infant at funeral homes in Silverthorne, Leadville and Gypsum.
Shannon Kent was sentenced to six months of probation after he was found guilty of second-degree official misconduct for allowing his wife to assume the duties of deputy coroner before actually placing her in the role.
The Kents were set for a December trial in Summit County on multiple felony counts relating to abusing a corpse, but a mistrial was declared after a key witness came down with COVID-19. The trial was reset for March 14 to 18, but 5th Judicial District Judge Terry Ruckriegle cited a lack of impartial jurors in declaring yet another mistrial. A new trial date has yet to be determined.
Beyond the cases of Shannon and Staci Kent, there is the story of Sunset Mesa Funeral Directors in Montrose. The two owners, Megan Hess and Shirley Koch, allegedly gave hundreds of families fake cremated remains that belonged to other people and sold bodies and body parts without telling loved ones. A federal grand jury indicted the two women on a slew of felony charges back in 2020. Both Hess and Koch pleaded not guilty to all charges and are set for trial in April.
House Bill 1073 is titled “Funeral Establishment And Crematory Inspection” and focuses on providing expanded “authorization to enter the premises of an establishment that provides services related to dead human bodies in order to perform an inspection,” according to the text of the bill.
Prior to the news legislation, the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies had no authority to inspect funeral homes and crematories “without the consent of the business owner and other high legal thresholds,” according to the press release.
The bill was sponsored by Roberts and Rep. Matt Soper, R-Delta, in the Colorado House. In the state Senate, the bill was sponsored by Donovan and Don Coram, R-Montrose.
Email Kelli Duncan at email@example.com