Post Office loses NJ man’s remains — daughter spends weeks trying to find him
HAMILTON (Mercer) — We’ve all lost a letter or package in the mail at some point.
But the Postal Service lost something of Sandy Gutierrez that she would never be able to replace: Her late father's cremated remains.
When Gutierrez shipped the cremains in a special box from the Independence Plaza post office on Dec. 27, she expected that the Priority Express package would arrive in three to five days in her father's home country of Argentina and be waiting for her with family by the time she arrived.
Her father, Jose, died July 4, 2018, at the age of 84. The family had long planned to gather in the South American nation and scatter his ashes in the ocean.
But as the date of her trip approached, Gutierrez noticed that the package’s tracking number indicated that the cremains had been shipped the wrong way across the Atlantic, to the United Kingdom, some 7,000 miles from its intended destination.
Instead of enjoying the time with her extended family, Gutierrez spent weeks pleading with the U.S. Postal Service and the office of her congressman, U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J. 4th District, to get answers they didn’t seem to have.
“It’s a real big mess. This is like a disaster,” she said.
When filling out federal forms to report her father's remains missing, she was struck by the strangeness of it all.
"What is the cost of reimbursement for me? How do I put a cost on that?" she said.
Cremated animal and human remains are routinely shipped by the post office under certain packaging and labeling guidelines. The USPS is the only service that can legally ship such remains.
New Jersey 101.5 reached out to the USPS this weekend and a spokesman said Tuesday that the air carrier assigned to transport the package had accidentally delivered it to London.
“The latest scanning indicates London has already forwarded the cremains to Argentina, so we expect it will reach its destination very soon,” Ray V. Daiutolo Sr. said Tuesday.
“The Postal Service offers our deepest condolences to the family.”
But Gutierrez isn't convinced. USPS tracking information for the package shows that it was scanned in the United Kingdom on Jan. 15, which was 15 days after the package arrived in the country.
Tracking shows that it left the Post Office in Hamilton at 4:40 p.m. Dec. 27, arrived at the Trenton Distribution Center at 8 p.m. and was dropped off at the International Distribution Center in Jamaica, New York, at 1:44 a.m. Dec. 28. Three days later it was in the United Kingdom
Since Jan. 15, the packaged has remained listed as "In-Transit."
"Six days later is not 'very soon' to me. He can't be flying for six days," Gutierrez said Tuesday as she prepared for her flight back. "This is just not an acceptable answer to me."
Even with the frustration, Gutierrez has been keeping a sense of humor, which she inherited from her father, referring to him as the “international man of mystery” and headlining her online posts with “Where in the world is Jose?”
“My father was always funny,” she said. “He was just a strange, quirky guy."
But at the same time, she says she's shed tears over this ordeal.
"My family is devastated," she said.
Jose Gutierrez moved to the United States in the 1960s and learned to speak English by working in a plastics factory. After splitting from his wife, he stayed in the United States to help raise his son and daughter. He occasionally spent time in Argentina and he had thought about spending his final years there but his dementia required dedicated attention from his children, and eventually the care of a nursing home, where his family visited him five days a week, Gutierrez said.
“He loved his family,” Gutierrez said. “He stayed in this country because to him everything was about me and my brother Dean and his four grandchildren."
Gutierrez said she's contemplating legal action against the Postal Service.
"I spent thousands of dollars to come down here," she said. "I never had a service for my dad."
Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-359-5348 or email email@example.com.