Local News

Thursday, Jan 09 2014 10:28 PM

Funeral home under several investigations

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Beloved Care Funeral Home at 717 E. Brundage Lane in Bakersfield is shown in a January 2014 file photo.

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BY STEVE LEVIN Californian staff writer slevin@bakersfield.com

The owner of an east Bakersfield funeral home accused of violations ranging from the inadequate storage of bodies to building code deficiencies defended himself Thursday and said he was still open for business.

James O. Gamble Jr., owner of Beloved Care Funeral Home at 717 E. Brundage Lane, has not been charged with any crime nor assessed fines, but he and his business face investigations from city, county and state agencies.

In addition, both Gamble's license as an embalmer and the license for the funeral home are delinquent, according to the state Cemetery and Funeral Bureau, part of the Department of Consumer Affairs.

The department's website states that an owner or business cannot operate with a delinquent license.

Gamble did not return numerous calls seeking comment.

Wednesday, the Kern County Coroner's office removed nine bodies from the funeral home that it said "were not being adequately housed."

Gamble appeared Thursday on Kern Radio 1180's Ralph Bailey Show and said that the bodies had been embalmed for "transition" to crematories. He said they were "preserved, cleaned, sanitized and restored."

He said that five of the bodies confiscated by the coroner's office were ready for transport to crematories and three had just arrived.

But Gamble said he'd had one embalmed body for 30 days. Embalming does not stop the body's deterioration. Most funeral homes use refrigeration to prevent deterioration.

Although Gamble's funeral home has refrigeration capability, it is not hooked up.

In fact, a handful of inspectors from the city's Code Enforcement Division this week found a host of electrical, mechanical, plumbing and building violations at Beloved Care Funeral Home, according to Randy Fidler, the chief code enforcement officer.

"It looks like there's a number of issues," Fidler said. "It's not that hazardous at this point as long as no one's in there operating" the business.

However, he said, Gamble "can't be in business until he gets those issues straightened out."

Fidler said a compliance notice will be delivered to the funeral home Friday. He said Gamble will have 48 hours to correct the violations.

Fidler said other work was done without proper permits, including the building of walls and the construction of what he called "an illegal structure" between the funeral home and its chapel.

Records show that Gamble was cited for code violations at the previous location of his funeral home, at 4840 E. Brundage Lane, in March 2013.

Bakersfield police are conducting a fraud investigation into whether people received services they'd paid for.

"There's just layer upon layer of things," said police spokesman Sgt. Joe Grubbs.

The Cemetery and Funeral Bureau is conducting an investigation into the funeral home's business practices. A spokeswoman said the Department of Consumer Affairs did not discuss "any investigations that may or may not be taking place."

Gamble said on the radio show that news of the investigations has cost him business, although he has received calls of support.

He had a minor stroke about a year ago, and the business has faced its own challenges, too.

"I extend a lot of credit," he said. "I'm struggling just like every businessman is today."

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