Coroner’s Handling of Obese Woman’s Corpse Prompts Outrage
The body of a 750-pound woman who died in her home was removed on a flatbed wrecker and covered with a carpet, outraging her loved ones and leading the local coroner to concede that his office could have taken a more sensitive approach.
Teresa Smith's boyfriend remains distraught over her death and the incident.
"You know how you hoist a car on a flatbed with a chain? That's how they took her up there," David Johnson said Thursday.
Johnson had taken care of Smith for the past four years.
Marion County Coroner Frank Lloyd Jr. said Smith's body could have been treated in a more sensitive manner. He said his office hopes to get equipment to accommodate similar instances in the future.
"The last time we had to do this was in 1997," Lloyd said. "Having been through this once, there are some steps we can take."
Smith, 48, had been bedridden because of her weight, unable to walk down the handful of steps in front of her ground-floor apartment.
Her 13-year-old son found her dead early Tuesday and alerted Johnson. The cause of death had not been determined Thursday.
In the past, the Indianapolis Fire Department had helped Smith get back into her bed after she'd fallen, Johnson said. But firefighters were unavailable Tuesday. Lloyd said he reached out to funeral directors, who also were unable to help. He turned to a local wrecker company.
According to Johnson, Smith's body was dragged out of the apartment on the mattress on which she died. The body was removed through sliding patio doors, and part of a wooden privacy fence had to be removed to make room.
Johnson said the wrecker hooked a hoist to the mattress and lifted Smith onto the flatbed truck, which had backed into the apartment courtyard.
Smith's body was covered with a carpet from her apartment, which Lloyd said was the only available material. He conceded that Smith's body still was visible to residents in the small courtyard between buildings.
"That's always a tough decision, to decide what sort of privacy you're going to establish," Lloyd said. "You want to take as much caution as possible."
Lloyd is considering purchasing a cart that could accommodate the exceptionally obese after they die.
Two days after Smith's death, Johnson is looking for a way to give Smith a proper funeral.