SANTA ANA — The already bizarre story of a homeless man who was misidentified as a dead transient, only to surprise his family by showing up very much alive, has taken another twist — a third body might be involved.
A lawsuit filed Tuesday accuses Orange County Coroner officials of misidentifying a body found last year outside a Verizon store in Fountain Valley, and that they knowingly released the wrong body to a funeral home to conceal a mistaken identity blunder involving Frankie M. Kerrigan.
The suit, which seeks $5 million in damages, contends Fountain Valley fire and police department reports gave descriptions of a body that looked nothing like Kerrigan, and that coroner officials ignored that description when they told Kerrigan’s relatives that he was dead.
The complaint also accuses the coroner’s office of knowingly passing off another corpse to Kerrigan’s family, hoping no one would notice.
Officials with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, which runs the Coroners Office, declined to comment.
In June, after the mix-up was revealed — and when Kerrigan turned out to be alive — the county exhumed a body that was identified as John Dickens, 54, of Kansas. Dickens’ body was cremated and his ashes shipped to his family.
The Orange County Coroner’s Office has said Dickens was identified through fingerprints. Reports also show that Dickens’ body, at about 5 feet 10 inches tall, 170 pounds, with light brown hair, generally matches the description of Kerrigan.
“He fit into the clothes the Kerrigan family bought for Frankie’s funeral and burial,” said V. James DeSimone, a Marina del Rey attorney who is representing Frankie Kerrigan’s family.
But the lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Orange County Superior Court, offers a possible new twist: The body found in Fountain Valley was neither Kerrigan nor Dickens. Instead, an official description of that body doesn’t match either man.
“There may be another family who doesn’t know about…