CHARELSTON – A Jackson County family is suing the West Virginia Office of the Chief Medical Examiner whom they blame for giving them a stranger's remains, which they buried thinking it was their young daughter.

Joseph Starcher and Tammy Scarberry Starcher and their two surviving children filed a lawsuit March 6 in Kanawha Circuit Court against state Chief Medical Examiner James A. Kaplan and his agency.

The lawsuit says that two of the couple's children –- Joseph Allen Starcher II, 4, and Victoria Hope Starcher, 2 –- were killed in a Feb. 8, 2008, fire at their Cottageville home.

The medical examiner's office took custody of the children's remains to perform autopsies. On Feb. 12, the remains were released to Charleston Mortuary Service for transport to Casto Funeral Home for burial.

According to the Starchers, the medical examiner's office gave the funeral home the remains of the Joseph, but not Victoria. The complaint said the family was instead provided with the remains of "Judith P.," a stranger whose remains had recently been recovered from a separate structure fire.

The remains of Joseph and Judith P. were buried in the same casket at Creston Cemetery in Evans, W.Va. on Feb. 15, the complaint says.

Three days later, staff at the medical examiner's office discovered they still had Victoria's remains at the Charleston office, the complaint says.

An internal investigation allegedly found that one of the morgue technicians on duty the day the remains were released to the funeral home failed to verify the identities of the remains.

Dr. Kaplan personally met with the Starchers on Feb. 19 to inform them of the mistake, the complaint says.

The family subsequently had to exhume the remains of Joseph and Judith P. and properly bury the brother and sister together, the lawsuit states.

The Starchers are seeking various damages.

Brent K. Kesner is representing the plaintiffs. The case is before Kanawha Circuit Judge Tod Kaufman.

Kanawha Circuit Court case number: 09-C-388

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