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.
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.