Woman says yearlong wait for brother’s remains from troubled funeral home ‘is no coincidence’
POCATELLO — For the past year, the sister of a deceased Pocatello man has wondered what happened to her brother’s remains.
Anthony Tucker died at the age of 36 on Sept. 11, 2020, while under hospice care following health complications. Tucker’s sister Chrystal Sellars lives 2,000 miles away in North Carolina and is still awaiting his cremated remains from Downard Funeral Home.
The funeral home is now at the center of a massive investigation after police discovered decomposing bodies, unidentified cremated remains and dozens of human fetuses.
“A year, I’ve been wondering where he was,” Sellars said. “It’s traumatic for me because I’ve always worried about him … and I saw the news and I felt in my heart this is no coincidence.”
Tucker lived a tragic life, according to Sellars. He grew up abused and moved from foster home to foster home. His adult life was not any easier as he experienced homelessness and numerous health issues.
“All my life, I was worried how he was, where he was, stuff like that,” Sellars said.
When Tucker died, Sellars said his remains were taken to Downard Funeral Home to be cremated. Not having funds to pay for services, Bannock County took on the expenses for Tucker’s cremation. According to Sellars, the process has not been smooth as she talked with Downard Funeral Home and its owner, Lance Peck.
“When I’ve called, either they don’t answer the phone, or they’ve told me that according to their records, he arrived and was picked up at the post office,” Sellars said. “When I asked for a tracking number, they couldn’t provide one.”
Still, Sellars remained hopeful there was a chance his remains could arrive.
“It’s been hard. I’ve wondered where he was and I try to play it off as a joke like, ‘Oh, Tony is just doing his last hurrah, he’s always made me wonder (where he is) and how he’s making me wonder again,'” Sellars said. “I just want him home where he belongs, where he has always belonged.”
It’s not just Sellars with questions. Pocatello Police have received hundreds of tips and requests for information following the search of the funeral home on Sept. 2. Pocatello Police Chief Roger Schei said in a news release the department knows there are a lot of “unanswered questions” and officers are working to get the bodies identified.
On Thursday, the police reported they had identified three more sets of cremated remains and returned them to families. Tucker was not among them.
The Idaho Division of Occupational and Professional Licenses visited Downard Funeral home and its Portneuf Valley Crematory the day before the yellow police tape went up around the building. Investigators report finding violations of the Idaho Board of Morticians laws and rules. Peck “voluntarily surrendered his licenses” to work as a mortician in Idaho and to operate his funeral home and crematory.
So far no one has been arrested as a result of the investigation or any of the violations found at the funeral home.
“When your family member passes, you expect the funeral homes to treat your family with dignity and you put trust in these people,” Sellars said. “Most people don’t have to worry about that. I had no idea this was happening and I didn’t suspect that.”
Troubles at Downard Funeral Home are not new. The Idaho Division of Occupational and Professional Licenses database shows that between 2015 and 2018, Peck faced civil disciplinary actions. From operating the business without proper licenses to not keeping records or sending remains to the proper places, the board fined Peck and placed him on probation.
“I don’t know if he (Tucker) is one of those bodies. I’m trying really hard not to think like that because it’s quite upsetting, but I do think he (Peck) did something wrong,” Sellars said. “It’s really suspicious and I really believe something in my heart something dishonest was done.”
Numerous efforts to reach Peck over the past several days have been unsuccessful.
“Nobody deserves this. Nobody deserves to wonder where their family members are,” Sellers said. “No one deserved to be decomposed in a morgue. It’s disrespectful. It’s degrading to those people. I think he’s sick.”