Texas DNA laboratory sued over shipment of remains

Alaska woman receives dead father's remains in the mail

Posted: Thursday, January 30, 2003

HOUSTON - An Alaska woman who was horrified to receive her dead father's leg bones in the mail has sued the Texas DNA-testing lab she says sent the package just before Christmas.

In a federal lawsuit filed Monday in a Galveston, Texas, court, LaMara Lane of North Pole seeks $1 million in damages from Houston's Identigene Inc.

Identigene is a 10-year-old firm that specializes in DNA testing for paternity and other purposes, according to its Web site.

Lane said she thought the package was a LobsterGram, a popular food gift in the Arctic. Instead, she found her father's leg bones and samples of his body tissue.

Her Friendswood, Texas, attorney, Tony Buzbee, said even more alarming was that the bone and tissue were taken from the corpse of George Semmens after it was exhumed under court order in North Dakota last year.

Semmens died in North Dakota in early 2000.

"This is the strangest case I've ever seen," Buzbee said in Tuesday's editions of the Houston Chronicle.

Buzbee said the lab was supposed to have them cremated and returned to a North Dakota funeral home as planned.

Identigene laboratory director Laura Gahn said she was following a North Dakota judge's order directing the lab to send the remains to Lane.

Gahn said the court order was forwarded to Identigene by Cooperstown, N.D., lawyer Paul Murphy, who also wrote a separate letter telling the lab to send the remains to Lane.

Murphy told the newspaper he was uncomfortable commenting on the case.

The lawsuit said Lane, 41, is an only child. Her father never married her mother, but she knew who her father was and visited him a few times during her life, according to the lawsuit.

Lane discovered she was the sole heir to his $200,000 estate after he died, Buzbee said. He said the estate settlement was contested.

In April 2001, a North Dakota judge ordered Semmens' body exhumed so DNA tests could be performed. The tests proved Semmens was Lane's father.

The teacher's aide and her husband, a hunter and trapper, live in North Pole 14 miles southeast of Fairbanks.

"She can barely talk about it without crying," Buzbee said. "She's been having nightmares about it. She's had to store the bone and flesh in her neighbor's freezer."



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