Disciplinary documents reveal morbid details of Pocatello funeral home investigation
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POCATELLO — A cremation chamber badly damaged in an explosion, and a decomposing body visible through a window are among the troubles that led to the Sept. 2 raid on Downard Funeral Home.
Disciplinary documents, published Tuesday by Idaho’s Division of Occupational and Professional Licenses, outline how the investigation into Peck began, and detail where bodies were found decomposing inside the funeral home.
With the publishing of the documents, Lance Peck and his two businesses Downard Funeral Home and Portneuf Valley Crematory, have officially had their license revoked by the Idaho Board of Morticians.
The documents detail that investigators stopped at Downard Funeral Home on March 24 for routine inspections. Peck reported his cremation chamber exploded and did not work. At the time, there were six cadavers that Peck said he received from Idaho State University for cremation. Inspectors found no discernable smell and records were in order. The refrigeration unit was also reportedly functioning.
Peck told officials his crematory had been placed on a waiting list for repairs and he had contacted other local crematories to help until his facility was repaired. Downard Funeral home remained in contact with the division of licenses and said that on Aug. 23, repairs would begin.
Troubles with Board of Licensing and Idaho State University
Peck has a long history of trouble with Idaho’s Division of Occupational and Professional Licenses, and earlier this year, another investigation began.
Disciplinary documents show a family contacted the division of licenses saying that when her mother, identified by the initials LL, died on Jan. 18, 2016, Peck agreed to take the remains to Idaho State University as the deceased woman wished. Peck explained the university’s cadaver program would have the remains for five years.
When the woman contacted Peck in January about the return of her mother’s remains, Peck reportedly failed to return her calls. When the woman contacted ISU, the university reported the remains were returned to Peck in April 2017.
For years, Peck and Downard Funeral Home had had a long-standing relationship with ISU. When people wanted the bodies of loved ones donated to ISU for study, Peck was in charge of facilitating the transfer of a cadaver or anatomical parts. He would also cremate the bodies for the university when they were done with them.
But in May 2020, the university ended its relationship with Peck. “During multi-year periods between 2011 and 2017, Downard failed to provide anatomical donations to the University. Due to a lack of donations, Idaho State ended its relationship with Downward,” an ISU news release shows.
Additionally, ISU discovered evidence that some families believed their loved ones were at ISU, however, the university had no record of the donation.
University officials relayed this information to investigators.
“Two families informed ISU that Respondent Peck informed the families that the remains of their loved ones were being donated to ISU, but ISU has no record of receiving the remains,” the disciplinary documents read. “ISU has completed intent to donate forms for four individuals whose obituaries stated that their remains were donated to ISU and Respondents handled the arrangements, but ISU has no record of receiving the individuals’ remains.”
Investigators found six additional obituaries saying their remains were donated to ISU and Downard Funeral Home handled the arrangements. The university told investigators they did not have any paperwork on those individuals or had not received the remains.
While investigating the complaints of lost remains, investigators got a call about an overwhelmingly foul odor coming from Downard Funeral Home. It did not just smell, but visible through a window open to passersby was a decomposing body on the preparation table, according to investigators.
The body was laid on the table for several days in view of students at the nearby Pocatello High School, according to disciplinary documents. Investigators also learned about a decomposing body in a body bag in one of the funeral home’s vehicles. The Bannock County Coroner was contacted about the concerns.
A division of licensing investigators stopped by Downard Funeral home on Aug. 31 and found the building locked. A rear garage door was open and the strong odor permeated the air. Investigators noted windows were covered and a decomposing body could not be seen.
The investigator called Peck and said he was out of town and he would be able to meet at the funeral home the next day.
Peck met with the investigators and on Sept. 1, they found a badly decomposed body in the garage. Peck told investigators the body had been there for a month.
Idaho law requires bodies to either be embalmed, cremated, buried or placed within refrigeration within 24 hours of the funeral home receiving the body. The investigator told Peck the body needed to be placed into refrigeration and he did so.
Peck voluntarily gave up his license the next day.
On Sept. 2 day investigators flooded the building and they continued to review documents on the remains at the funeral home. There were 10 bodies in the refrigeration unit and multiple cremains found at Downard Funeral Home.
A further search of the garage unveiled multiple body boxes covered in decomposing human remains. Another badly decomposed body was found in a plastic bag. In total, Pocatello police reported they found 12 decomposing and unrefrigerated bodies.
The Pocatello Police Department and other officials began removing the bodies on Sept. 3 and tried to identify the remains. As of Monday night, all but one of the sets of remains had been identified.
Police have also said investigators found a collection of 61 fetuses. ISU said in a statement the fetuses were part of a collection donated to the university for study between 1981 and 1998. After changes in Idaho laws, Downard Funeral Home picked up the collection and was supposed to cremate them.
With the revocation of his license, Peck is ordered to pay $4,946.94 in investigative fees.
Multiple attempts to reach Peck have failed.
The latest division of licenses struggles for Peck is not the first. Documents obtained by EastIdahoNews.com show between 2015 and 2018, Peck and his funeral home faced civil disciplinary actions. From not filing the proper paperwork to operating without a valid license. He was placed on terms of probation and ordered to pay fines.
As of Tuesday afternoon, no one has been arrested or charged criminally for what investigators uncovered.