- Publish Date
- Thursday, 14 May 2015, 5:13PM
The man who helped load a corpse back into the hearse it fell out of at a busy Auckland intersection has had trouble sleeping since the spooky ordeal.
Manase Fakapulia was returning home from a shopping trip in Otahuhu with his wife Alisi and their 14-year-old daughter, Lineti, when the corpse loaded onto a gurney fell from a Pacific Memorial hearse in front of their Nissan Serena at the Great South Rd and Puhiniui Rd traffic lights in Papatoetoe on Tuesday.
Horrified motorists and nearby workers saw the corpse, strapped to a gurney and covered in a sheet, lying on the road in the rain about 1pm.
Pacific Memorials co-owner Carina Zhang said the body had fallen out as it was being transported by the firm. She said the driver of the hearse had reported the incident to her, which was due to a faulty latch on the car's rear door.
Ms Zhang said the corpse had been inspected immediately and was unharmed, but the family of the deceased were only notified after she learned the Herald was going to publish news about the incident.
Mrs Fakapulia and her family were waiting in traffic when the hearse went to drive away and the corpse, strapped to a gurney and covered with a sheet, fell out the back.
"When he went to drive off the body bag fell out on the trolley," she said. "It was scary [but] someone had to go out and help because it was blocking the traffic.
"No one wanted to get out, I could tell. I said 'Babe, babe do you see what I see?' and he just jumped out and helped lift it."
However, the boot would not stay up for the men to put the corpse back inside.
"They couldn't push it in because the boot kept falling down. He tried to open up the door two times, maybe three times but the door kept closing down...so my daughter walked out and opened up the boot."
Mrs Fakapulia said her husband was in shock after the incident.
"He's been up all night the last two nights thinking about it, he said he can't sleep thinking about what happened."
Another man, who wished not to be named, was stopped in his car at the intersection when he saw the hearse take off at the lights.
"I was just parked there and all of a sudden I saw the funeral car's boot open and something slipping out and it was a body."
The man took a photo of the incident on this phone, capturing an image of the hearse driver and Mr Fakapulia trying to put the body back into the hearse in the pouring rain.
"I was about three cars back and saw it falling out. The driver had no idea and when he moved the vehicle to take off it just rolled back and the back opened."
Motorist Alison Smith said she pulled up at the intersection about 1pm to see the body "lying on a gurney in the middle of the road behind the hearse".
"It was quite surreal, really, but because there were no cops and nothing appeared to have happened, I thought, 'Why is there a dead person on a gurney in the middle of the intersection?'
"The gurney - the wheels had collapsed, so it was just somebody lying in the middle of the road, in the rain.
"I was just thinking, if that was a member of my family, that would be so disturbing."
Bobby Boskovic, who works at the nearby Manukau Park and Sell car-sales business, said he and his co-workers also saw the incident unfold.
"I just saw what looked like a body going back into a hearse ... I've seen lots of different things; nothing like that, though.
"I wasn't sure what the hell it was, but it looked like a body on a gurney."
Mr Boskovic's employee Amber Neale also saw the event unfold.
"It took us awhile to comprehend or come to terms with what we were seeing," she said.
"It was one of those trolleys they have in the back of ambulances and when the wind stopped blowing the sheet and it was still, you could see the outline of a person lying down."
Ms Neale said the incident probably happened in the space of about two minutes.
"But when you think about it, and in the pouring rain, that's quite a long time."
Ms Zhang said the incident was "unfortunate" but the company had done everything it could to prevent it recurring.
"It was a really bad accident. The driver involved really was shocked. The body was okay; nothing happened to it. It was really a very unfortunate accident. We do feel so bad."
Ms Zhang said the hearse had already been repaired.
Funeral Directors Association of New Zealand chief executive Katrina Shanks said Pacific Memorials was not one of its 100-plus accredited members.
"Unfortunately, there are operational failures on occasion and it sounds like this is one of those situations. It's extremely upsetting for the family for something like this to happen and my expectation will be that the funeral director is doing everything it can to make it easier for the family."
Ms Shanks, a former National MP, said the industry was not currently regulated, but a report by the Law Commission was due to be completed in October that might introduce legal operational standards.
The incident was not reported to the police.
'Understanding' family accepts apology
Ms Zhang said that she contacted the family of the body, that was being transferred from a hospital to the funeral home, at the time of the incident.
"We have contacted the family and apologised and they have been really wonderful. They expressed their understanding and they accepted our apology.
"We also contacted some families that we are going to serve in this coming week whose funeral might under the influence of this news.
"So far all our families are very generous and understanding."
The vehicle had now been fixed, she said.
"We also want to apologise through the newspaper to the public, especially those people involved on the scene. I believe it might be a horrible scene for them to see and also to the general public who might be offended by something like this."
Ms Zhang said the hearse's driver was very upset by the incident and was being supported by the company.