During the deadliest days of the coronavirus outbreak in New York City, the bodies piled up at a Brooklyn funeral home — and the stench that came with it — at an alarming rate.
Passersby reported that the smell was wafting from rental trucks used to store decomposing remains outside Andrew T. Cleckley Funeral Home, in a working class section of the borough next to a discount variety store.
What happened next, Cleckley says, made him the scapegoat for an unforeseen crisis — hundreds of COVID-19 deaths a day in New York that overwhelmed funeral homes across the city. Authorities swept in and suspended his license in an episode that made headlines in a city already reeling from other horrors of the pandemic.
Months later, Cleckley, 41, said in an interview with The Associated Press that he is still battling to save a livelihood that is “in his blood.”
“I was honestly just trying to help,” Cleckley said of his efforts to make funeral arrangements for far more people than usual. “Now I’m being crucified for it.”
The state Health Department hasn’t been sympathetic. It brought a health code violation case against Cleckley aimed at revoking his funeral home license for good.
The department refused to immediately disclose details of its official allegations and the findings by an administrative judge, which are under review by Health Commissioner Howard Zucker. It told the AP it would need to apply for the records under the state’s open records law to see them in advance of Zucker’s final ruling.Cleckley is also under fire by families who have sued him, alleging he mishandled the remains of loved ones.Instead […]