The State Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors reinstated the embalming license, funeral home license and funeral directors license of Ouachtia County Coroner Sylvester Smith Jr., and Williams Funeral Home at a July 18 meeting in a unanimous vote.
The board also fined Smith $250 and stated the previous revocations of his licenses would be considered retroactive suspensions.
On May 17, the State Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors found Smith and Williams Funeral Home in violation of state law and unanimously voted to revoke the licenses.
Board members cited a failed inspection, where OSHA violations, clutter and health and safety hazards were allegedly observed, in voting for the revocation. Smith Jr. was not in attendance at the meeting where his licenses were revoked.
In June, the board voted to rehear the matter and conditionally granted a stay in the revocation of Williams Funeral Home’s operating license.
Sylvester Smith III said in his opening statements at the Board’sJuly meeting, “The board has heard this matter, the state has demonstrated that there were significant issues; we have stipulated that there were in fact issues, and truthfully, we’re just here to demonstrate the progress we have made.”
Joshua Taylor, Inspector for the Board testified at the meeting.
“I did find that the funeral home had made a complete change from what I saw on November of 2021,” Taylor said. “There were improvements at that location. Currently there was work being done in the preparation room as I was there. There was not any clutter issues, nor were there any exits blocked upon my secondary visit.”
Taylor also said that a price list was displayed, putting the facility in compliance with state requirements.
He also noted, “Mr. Smith shared with me that he was going to undergo a contract with Stericycle Biowaste system. I did speak with Stericycle and they verified with me that is correct.”
Taylor saidthat routine inspections of the funeral home would be beneficial, given the state of the business in the past.
Sylvester Smith Jr. stated, “The lady that sold me the funeral home, I worked for her for like 38 years. She had no kids, and I guess she always considered me to be a son.”
Smith went to state he was sold the home as “a gift.”
“She sold it to me, nowhere near what the funeral home was worth, but she wanted me to have it,” he said.
Smith continued, saying he was not able to make certain changes to the building as the ownership of Williams Funeral Home was in dispute, and additionally, COVID-19 caused many deaths in the county which overworked him.
Smith stated, “I’m looking for someone to manage my funeral home. I don’t want to get overwhelmed again.”
Smith III asked the board, “We would ask that on top of the revenue that was lost, we be assessed a fine of $250 and that amount would just be in consideration of the revenues that was lost over the two months.”
The board granted the request and also directed Taylor to reinspect the home within 60 days.
“After they listened to my story, they understood what I went through. The main problem was me not coming to that hearing. They thought I willfully just didn’t come,” Smith said after the meeting.
Smith reiterated that the inspection came during the COVID-19 pandemic and he was often out on calls as the Coroner.
“My responsibility was to the people of Ouachita County, so I had to juggle stuff around. That funeral home makes money, but that’s not the most important thing; my job as Coroner was the most important thing,” he said.