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What we know about Downard Funeral Home, Lance Peck and what’s next in the case

News

POCATELLO — Saturday makes one year since police raided Downard Funeral Home and Crematory.

The business was shut down and director Lance Peck had his mortician’s license revoked just over one week later. Charges resulting from the investigation were filed this week — 63 misdemeanors, primarily regarding the mortician’s code of conduct.

That investigation continues and, as Bannock County Prosecutor Stephen Herzog said in a news release, additional charges are expected to be filed.

Here is everything EastIdahoNews.com knows about the investigation surrounding Downard and Peck.

ISU partnership

Downard had a “longstanding relationship” with Idaho State University. As part of that relationship, Downard provided ISU with “anatomical donations” for medical research. But that relationship came to an end after an audit of the donation program by the university “indicated multiple causes for concern,” according to a statement provided to EastIdahoNews.com from ISU spokesman Stuart Summer.

“During multi-year periods between 2011 and 2017, Downard failed to provide anatomical donations to the University,” the statement said. “Due to a lack of donations, Idaho State ended its relationship with Downward in May 2020.”

While conducting their audit of the donations, ISU discovered that some families were led to believe the bodies of their loved ones had been donated to the program despite ISU having no record of ever receiving those donations.

After terminating its relationship with Downard and Peck, ISU filed formal complaints with the prosecutor’s office. Those complaints were filed in the spring of 2021.

Foul smell leads to search warrant

Several Pocatello residents who spoke with EastIdahoNews.com recalled smelling a foul stench emanating from the funeral home as early as February that year.

That stench was reported to police on Sept. 2, prompting a visit from Pocatello Fire and EMS crews. The following day, Pocatello police served a search warrant at the business.

Police later confirmed that the search warrant was necessitated by the discovery of a decomposing body inside the funeral home.

Members of the Pocatello Police Department, Pocatello Fire Department, Bannock County Coroner’s Office, Bannock County Prosecutor’s Office and Southeastern Idaho Public Health were present during the search. Additionally, the Ada County Coroner’s Office provided a refrigerator truck to assist with the transport of remains at the request of Bannock coroner Torey Danner.

Officials conducting the search spent several hours inside the building and transporting human remains to other local funeral homes.

A history of violations

During the search, EastIdahoNews.com discovered that Peck and Downard had faced numerous disciplinary actions.

Documentation shows that Peck cremated the body of a man in 2012 despite knowing the man’s request was to have his body donated to ISU.

He was again reprimanded in 2016 for doing the same thing to the body of a woman who wished to have her body donated to ISU. He did not turn her remains over to her family until 2017.

Peck was also fined on more than one occasion for allowing his license to lapse before re-registering.

During a March 24, 2021 routine inspection by the Idaho Board of Morticians, Peck informed officials that his cremation chamber had exploded and was not in working order.

Multiple witnesses who lived in the area told EastIdahoNews.com that they had seen smoke rising from the cremation chamber between March and September.

Discoveries

During the search of the funeral home, police reported finding 12 decomposing and unrefrigerated bodies. The bodies were not identified for weeks, as police and the coroner’s office worked with family members of the deceased who had begun searching for their loved ones.

Investigators also found 61 human fetuses during the search. ISU said in a statement that the fetuses had been part of a collection donated for research between 1981 and 1998.

The fetuses had been picked up by Downard, according to ISU, and were supposed to have been cremated.

Nearly three weeks after the the search warrant was executed at Downard, Pocatello police confirmed that its investigation into Downard had become a “criminal investigation.”

Computers seized during the search had been taken to the Intermountain West Regional Computer Forensics Laboratory for analysis as part of the investigation.

Speaking with those affected

EastIdahoNews.com spoke with family members of people whose remains were handled by Peck and Downard.

Destiny Anderson, a Blackfoot woman, was forced to question whether the cremated remains she received from Downard was in fact her father’s remains.

“I don’t even know that what I have is my dad. It could be tree ashes, for all I know,” Anderson told EastIdahoNews.com a week after the search was conducted at Downard. “My biggest concern is, where are my dad’s remains? I can deal with not having his ashes, if I know his body was properly disposed of and taken care of. But the not knowing is what’s really getting me right now.”

And this after she discovered that his body was never taken to ISU for melanoma research in 2013 as was his dying wish.

Eva Bode, who lives in Virginia, learned soon after the search of the funeral home that her sister’s was one of the decomposing bodies found inside.

Like many who spoke with EastIdahoNews.com, Bode described Peck as a seemingly caring individual who could be trusted with her loved one.

‘This is stuff you only see on TV,” she said. “I was very upset because Lance made me feel like he was really genuine, caring and really taking care of this. To find this out on the internet was unbelievable.”

“I wish no harm on anyone, but gosh darn it, it doesn’t seem like he should be in a position to continue operating,” Bode’s husband Tom Henderson told EastIdahoNews.com. “Something has to be done to make sure this doesn’t happen to anyone else. We’re angry, but we don’t know what to do with the anger.”

Chrystal Sellars, who lives in North Carolina, had been waiting for almost a year for the ashes of her brother.

Her brother died in September 2020 and his body was taken to Downard. Sellars was waiting for the arrival of his remains until she saw that Downard was being investigated.

“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.”

For days, Sellars attempted to get a hold of Peck. She was hoping to discover if her brother’s ashes were among those found during the search. She said Peck never answered or returned her calls.

“When your family member passes, you expect the funeral homes to treat your family with dignity and you put trust in these people,” she said. “Most people don’t have to worry about that. I had no idea this was happening and I didn’t suspect that.”

It took Rhonda D’Amico seven months before she had reached a point where she could speak about her experience, because she and her husband counted Peck among their friends.

When her husband died in August 2021, it was an easy choice to have a friend of 20 years handle his cremation. But then she saw that Peck and Downard were being investigated for criminal activity.

Her husband’s body had not yet been cremated, and should have been among those found during the search. Alas, D’Amico said, it was not.

Like Sellars, D’Amico tried to contact Peck — to find out where her husband was. But she never got any information.

“I’m not going to forgive Lance. I don’t have any intention of ever forgiving Lance,” she said.

What made matters worse for D’Amico was, Peck attended her husband’s celebration of life — just three days prior to the search. As she explained, he comforted her and consoled her. He hugged her, all the while knowing what was going on at the building where her husband’s body was supposed to be.

EastIdahoNews.com reached out to many of the people who spoke to us about their loved ones and the pain caused by the happenings at Downard. Those who responded declined to speak and, again, reopen wounds.

Peck appeared in court and pleaded not guilty on all counts Wednesday. He was released from the sheriff’s custody after posting a $20,000 bond.

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