Funeral home accused of holding boy’s body ‘captive’

Updated: Jul. 20, 2020 at 7:43 PM EDT
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ELIZABETHTOWN, Ky. (WAVE) - A 6-year-old boy who loved to play basketball, Malachi Fryer didn’t know anything about guns.

“The child came out and saw the gun on a table and took it back into his room where he accidentally shot himself,” Hardin County Sheriff John Ward said.

This isn’t a story about the man who came over to Malachi’s mother’s house to play video games with a handgun in a backpack. This is a story about what Malachi’s grandmother, who had power of attorney over him, said happened next in the delirious haze of grief over the sudden death of a 6-year-old.

“I don’t know how funerals work,” Malachi’s grandmother, Lovetta Winters, said. “I was still distraught over it, thinking in the back of my mind how does all this stuff work. Do people just go get bodies? No one contacted me about it.”

Winters’ nightmare only got worse when she said Danny Percell of Percell & Son’s Funeral Home took Malachi’s body from the morgue without her permission.

“He couldn’t stand to see that poor little baby up there in that big morgue by his self is what he said,” Winters said.

She said Percell embalmed the boy and published an obituary while all she had was an appointment to talk to him about possibly doing the funeral.

“I said, ‘Mr. Percell, I decided to go with Newcomer,‘” Winters said. “‘So they’ll be coming to pick his body up today.' He said, ‘Yeah after you pay me my money.’ I said, ‘Pay you money for what?' He said, ‘You owe me for embalming, you owe me for ordering a casket, you owe me for picking up his body.’ I said, ‘I never once asked you to do any of that.‘”

She accused Percell of holding her grandson’s body ransom until she paid him $1,700.

“He said, ‘You got 20 minutes. You’re wasting your time,‘” Winters said. “‘You got 20 minutes to get back here’ because he didn’t want to take my check. He said, ‘I want a cashier’s check with a bank name on it.’”

Winters, her sister, and the boy’s godmother all filed complaints with the Kentucky Board of Embalmers accusing Percell of holding the boy hostage, and writing “the grief of losing my godson was unbearable enough and then to have to deal with this is unapologetically unacceptable.”

When WAVE 3 News called and asked Danny Percell for an interview, he agreed. Then he called back and said he’s done nothing wrong and he will not comment further until the Kentucky Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors rules on the matter.

His attorney then sent the following statement:

(Story continues below the letter)

Percell’s attorney also sent an affidavit from Winters’ church pastor that said “During the whole time I was meeting with Mr. Percell and Ms. Winters, there were never any problems or any drama or any cross words or anything of that sort. Never was there any indication that Danny Percell did not have the authority to administer to the body of Malachi.”

“He don’t have no signature of mine stating that I gave him permission to embalm him,” Winters said. “He has nothing of mine that supports anything he did with Malachi, period.”

With all that going on, in an executive order dated May 8, Gov. Andy Beshear appointed Danny Percell to the State Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors. Then, on May 29, he rescinded the executive order appointing Percell to the Board.

“I just want to make sure justice is served for my baby,” Winters said. “Being held captive, and he was deceased. I don’t get it.”

WAVE 3 News contacted the man who investigated the complaint for the State Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors. He said he was willing to do an interview, but he said he could not. He said a hearing officer will issue a ruling and then it will be up to the Board, which can affirm, reject or amend the recommendation.

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