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Morgue put Staten Island car-crash teen’s brain in jar and schoolmates discover truth on field trip

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A Staten Island couple who had just buried their 17-year-old son after a car accident were horrified to learn the medical examiner held onto his brain.

And the way they found out was even more gut-wrenching:The teen’s schoolmates – including his girlfriend – spotted the organ floating in a jar during a field trip to the mortuary.

Now Andre and Korisha Shipley have gotten the go-ahead to sue the city – which is still claiming it did nothing wrong.

“It turns out to be this horrible, horrible situation,” the Shipleys’ lawyer, Marvin Ben-Aron, said after the appeals court ruling Friday.

Jesse Shipley, a student at Port Richmond High School, was killed in a car crash Jan. 9, 2005 – and his dad gave permission for an autopsy the next day.

The family had no idea that Dr. Stephen de Roux at the Richmond County Mortuary removed Jesse’s brain for further study before releasing his body later that day, Ben-Aron said.

Almost three months after the funeral, the Port Richmond Forensics Club took a field trip to the mortuary.

In what the court called a “surreal coincidence,” the students saw a brain in formaldehyde labeled with Jesse’s name.

“There was a case that you could see through, and there were brains in jars and names on the jars. One said ‘head trauma, Shipley, J,'” said Samantha Feldman, 22, one of the students.

Jesse’s girlfriend and her best friend were there.

“The best friend went outside and was flipping out,” Feldman said. “She started crying and called her mom and said, ‘Mom, Jesse’s brain is here! I can’t be here.'”

Some students who didn’t know Jesse took out their cell phones and took pictures, while others cried, Ben-Aron said.

The teacher cut the visit short, but back at school, the students told the story to Jesse’s younger sister, Shannon, who had survived the car crash that killed her brother. She started screaming, and her parents had to come pick her up, the lawyer said.

The family went to court to get their son’s brain – which wasn’t even dissected until after the field trip – returned to them.

In a deposition, de Roux explained it was his practice to have several brains tested at once because it’s more efficient.

“I wait months, until I have six brains, and then it’s kind of worth while to make the trip to Staten Island to examine six brains,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense for him to come and do one.”

The Shipleys’ priest told them the first burial – without the brain – wasn’t proper so they had to endure an exhumation and second funeral, Ben-Aron said.

They sued the city, which tried to get the case tossed. An appeals court ruled this week that the suit can proceed because there’s a “question of fact” about whether the medical examiner had the right to hold back the brain.

The Shipleys’ suit also alleged that the jar containing the brain was labeled: “This is what happens when you drink and drive.”

The appeals panel decided there was no proof that was true or that the mortuary “mishandled” the brain. Ben-Aron said alcohol was not involved in the accident, and Jesse Shipley was a passenger, not the driver.

It’s unclear if the city will try to settle the suit or go to trial. “We are evaluating our legal options,” said city lawyer Ronald Sternberg.



Written by John

October 3, 2010 at 6:45 am

Posted in Oct 3, 2010

Court upholds funeral director’s conviction in a body-parts scandal

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The Appellate Division of state Supreme Court today unanimously upheld the conviction of funeral director Scott W. Batjer for allowing the removal of bone and tissue from eight bodies without consent.

A five-judge panel denied Batjer’s claim that he was wrongly convicted under a law that prohibits the harvesting of body parts before burial, but not before cremation. A judge found after a non-jury trial in 2009 that Batjer, owner of Profetta Funeral Chapels in Webster and Irondequoit, illegally allowed parts to be harvested for use in medical procedures before the bodies were cremated.

Batjer, 41, is serving a prison term of 2 2/3 to eight years. He is eligible for parole in March 2012.


Written by John

October 3, 2010 at 6:31 am

Posted in Oct 3, 2010

92-year-old robbed in Prospect Hill Cemetery gets wallet back

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Marlet Spangler’s wife, Norma, died seven years ago at 81.

Spangler, 92, misses her and just about every day, he drives to Prospect Hill Cemetery in Manchester Township to visit her grave. He usually spends a few minutes visiting her and then, he said, “he walks around looking at the graves, you know, monkeying around.”

On Wednesday, just after noon, he was at his wife’s grave when he heard a car pull up near his car. A moment later, a man in his late 20s or early 30s, had pulled a black revolver on him and was demanding his wallet.

“I guess I wasn’t quick enough to hand it over, so he grabbed it, ripped my pants,” Spangler said Friday in his Manchester Township home.

It happened quickly. Spangler did ask the man if he could

have his cards — his driver’s license and such. “But I don’t think he heard me,” he said.By then, the suspect was heading to his car. He drove off toward the cemetery’s Pennsylvania Avenue exit.

Since that afternoon, Spangler has been interviewed by two local TV stations and the newspapers. He’s not sure why everybody’s making such a fuss.

It was just something that happened.

He said he wasn’t scared during the robbery.

“What’s the use of being scared?” asked Spangler, retired superintendent of General Machine Works in York. “Wouldn’t do no good to be scared.”

The suspect got away with about $60, he said.

Strange thing is, on Thursday, Spangler received his wallet in the mail — his ID and cards intact, only the money missing. He imagines the robber mailed it to him, or maybe someone found his wallet and dropped it in the mail. He called the Northern York County Regional Police, who took his wallet for processing. The police were to return it Friday, Spangler said.

He also figures the robber was disappointed to get such a small sum for his efforts.

But he doesn’t hold any ill feelings toward the robber.

“Maybe that’s his job, to go out and rob people,” he said. “Maybe he figured he’d get a lot more money from me.”

Police are continuing to investigate. Anyone with information is asked to call them at 292-3647 or use the crime tip reporting section at the department’s Web site,


Written by John

October 3, 2010 at 6:29 am

Posted in Oct 3, 2010