The widow and daughter of a Florida man who died while visiting Slidell in August are suing St. Tammany Parish Coroner Charles Preston for cremating his body without his wife’s knowledge or consent, despite their efforts to obtain information from the office.
The suit also says the Coroner’s Office has refused to provide an autopsy report or release the man’s ashes until his widow pays the cremation bill.
Shawn Woltmann had a pending worker’s compensation claim at the time of his death on Aug. 13. His widow, April Woltmann, was trying to determine whether his death was related to a leg injury he had suffered about a year before, according to the lawsuit filed in federal court last week.
The injury left Shawn Woltmann prone to other life-threatening conditions, according to the lawsuit, and he was on high levels of narcotic pain medication.
The suit says April Woltmann had “advised” the Coroner’s Office about the claim and the need to establish whether his death was related to his injuries, including her desire for a private autopsy if the one conducted by the Coroner’s Office was inconclusive.
April Woltmann was told the coroner had preliminary results and was awaiting toxicology results before completing the autopsy and releasing the body, the suit says.
As late as Nov. 18, a Coroner’s Office representative told Woltmann’s attorney that the office was still trying to complete the report, the suit says
But at some point, the Coroner’s Office had the body cremated. Neither April Woltmann nor her attorney was notified that the body had been released, the suit alleges, and they learned about the cremation after the fact.
Coroner’s Office spokesman James Hartmann said the office does not comment on pending litigation and has not been served with the suit.
But the lawsuit implies that the Coroner’s Office is claiming it couldn’t reach April Woltmann.
“Despite the fact that St. Tammany Parish Coroner’s Office had knowledge that April Woltmann was represented by counsel and was in contact with said attorney regarding the coroner’s report, no effort was made to contact her attorney to inform her that the Coroner’s Office was allegedly unable to get in touch with Mrs. Woltmann regarding her husband’s body,” the suit says.
The widow has been unable to get a copy of the autopsy, the suit says, citing a demand from the Coroner’s Office that she pay $300 for the cremation.
April Woltmann’s lawyer had sent a $125 check and medical authorization to the office, following instructions provided by the Coroner’s Office in an email, the suit says, but the report was never sent to the lawyer or her client.
Now, the suit says, the Coroner’s Office is refusing to provide the report or to release her husband’s ashes until she pays the $300 “despite the fact that Ms. Woltmann never authorized the cremation and it was performed illegally under Louisiana law.”
Shawn Woltmann spent most of his life in Bakersfield, California, according to his obituary.
An online account set up by his daughter, Leslie, said the couple had moved to Florida to be closer to his wife’s parents and that April Woltmann had been the caretaker for her parents as well as her husband following his accident.
Follow Sara Pagones on Twitter, @spagonesadvocat.