ISP: Mortuary services van crashes, driver hurt

Tribune-star file photo/submitted

State troopers said this mortuary services van ran off I-70 westbound near the 35 mile marker and struck a tree on May 16, 2017. Alcohol was a factor in the crash. On Thursday, funeral director Matthew Fitzthum's professional license was revoked by the State Board of Funeral and Cemetery Service.

A Clinton funeral director had his state license revoked and was fined $6,000 after he crashed a van while transporting the body of a deceased woman and was arrested on drunken driving charges.

Matthew Fitzhum, 52, who closed his Clinton-based Simple Cremations and Burials in 2017, showed professional incompetence in two separate cases filed against him by consumers, the State Board of Funeral and Cemetery Service ruled Thursday.

"This case is about a licensed funeral director destroying trust when trust was needed the most," Deputy Indiana Attorney General Jessica Hilger said.

One of the complaints was filed by the Terre Haute daughter of a 72-year-old Clinton woman who passed away May 16, 2017, at St. Vincent Seton Specialty Hospital in Indianapolis. The family hired Fitzthum to transport the body to his office for cremation.

At 1 p.m. that day, Indiana State Police responded to a report that a black van had gone into the Interstate 70 median and struck a tree in Putnam County. The woman was in a body bag that had been strapped to a gurney. The gurney overturned in the crash and the woman's body was harmed. Fitzthum's teenage son had to retrieve the body to finish the transport.

Fitzthum was taken to Terre Haute Regional Hospital, where he tested with a blood-alcohol level of .273, police said. He reportedly told an investigator he had consumed a pint of whiskey about an hour before the crash and that he had also had consumed beer. Two open 24-ounce beer cans were found in the vehicle, according to a probable cause affidavit.

Opiates were also found in his system, according to a police report.

Fitzthum later entered a guilty plea to operating a vehicle with a blood-alcohol level of .15 or more. He was sentenced to one year in Putnam County Jail with 355 days suspended.

In the second complaint, a 63-year-old Staunton man and Fitzthum entered into an agreement on Sept. 23, 2016, for a pre-need funeral contract and set up a $1,232 trust fund based out of a bank in Batesville.

The funds had not been deposited by May 2017. After filing a lawsuit, the Staunton man was awarded judgment in a Clay County court. An investigator with the Indiana Attorney General's office said the man had not received payment as of Thursday.

Fitzthum did not attend Thursday's board hearing.