Sheriff-Coroner Says Oopsie for Declaring Frank M. Kerrigan Dead When He Wasn't

Sheriff-Coroner Says Oopsie for Declaring Frank M. Kerrigan Dead When He Wasn'tEXPAND
Nick Bockelman/OC Weekly

UPDATE, JUNE 26, 4:43 P.M.: This just in ...

... from OCSD:

The decedent who was previously misidentified as Frank M. Kerrigan, 57, has been positively identified by fingerprints. The Coroner Division is attempting to locate and notify family therefore we will not be releasing the name of the decedent at this time. Until his family can be found or all efforts are exhausted, his body will remain interred at Holy Sepulcher Cemetery.

Upon being made aware that an error was made was, the staff at the Coroner Division have worked diligently to rectify the situation. The department has opened an internal investigation into the misidentification of the decedent to determine the cause of the error and will look at the policy to determine if changes need to be made. Due to the investigation and pending litigation, details of the incident cannot be discussed.

The Orange County Sheriff’s Department again extends its sincere apologies for any grief incurred by the Kerrigan family during this unfortunate incident.


ORIGINAL POST, JUNE 26, 4:49 A.M.: The Orange County Sheriff's Department has officially apologized for and vowed to investigate its coroner division telling a couple their son was dead when he was not.

But the statement came after lawyers for the family of 57-year-old Frank M. Kerrigan vowed to file a claim against the County of Orange, which would likely lead to a lawsuit if the claim is rejected.

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Kerrigan suffers from mental illness and chooses to be homeless, but his family periodically saw and checked up on him. Their worst fears were realized on May 6, when the coroner's office called to say Kerrigan's body was found next to a Verizon Wireless store in Fountain Valley. The man's father, whose name is also Frank Kerrigan, says the coroner representative reported that his son was identified by his fingerprints. His sister went to the store location and cried and prayed, according to the family.

A death certificate was issued. An autopsy revealed the 57-year-old died from an enlarged heart and fluid in his lungs. The family saw the body days before the funeral but concede he was tough to recognize. Dozens of family and friends attended the memorial service.

But 11 days after Frank M. Kerrigan was buried at an Orange cemetery, his father received a call from a friend saying Frank Jr. was still alive. This left family members confused, then shocked and finally filled with questions about how the coroner could have misidentified the deceased.

They hired attorneys Douglas and Brian Easton of Easton & Easton LLP in Costa Mesa to file a claim alleging the coroner was negligent. No fingerprint match had actually come back and the identification was made off an old DMV photo, according to the complaint, which notes the family shelled out $20,000 to bury a stranger.

The county has six months to respond to the claim, but it is routine for the Board of Supervisors to reject them, clearing the way for lawsuits.

The Orange County Sheriff-Coroner's Office initially declined to comment, citing the ongoing investigation, but there may have been a change of heart due to media attention as this was emailed to the Weekly on Saturday:

OCSD Investigating Misidentification by OC Coroner Office

SANTA ANA, Calif. (June 24, 2017) - The Orange County Sheriff’s Department is conducting an internal investigation into the misidentification of a decedent. The department extends regrets to the family of Frank M. Kerrigan, 57, for any emotional stress caused as a result of this unfortunate incident.

As part of the internal investigation, this incident and all identification policies and procedures will be reviewed to ensure no future misidentifications occur.


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