YouTube video stuns business
Funeral home to pursue civil charges

LAWRENCEVILLE - The head of a prominent local funeral home said Thursday the company intends to pursue civil charges against individuals who allegedly posted a bizarre video clip on a popular Internet site showing a cremation at the company's Lawrenceville facility.

"I don't want any other community to have to go through something like this," said Tom M. Wages Funeral Service chief executive officer Rick Johnson. "We're going to do whatever we can, to the fullest extent of the law. I'm a man of my word and we're going to do it."

Employees of the funeral home were stunned earlier this month after a 32-second video clip was found on YouTube showing a cremation in progress at the company's Lawrenceville location. The funeral home has an additional facility in Snellville.

The company initially sought criminal charges, but District Attorney Danny Porter said he has been unable to find an applicable statute that would make posting the video a criminal act. For example, he said, invasion of privacy laws are hard to enforce in this incident because if indeed the video showed a cremated body - he said the video is not clear - it would ultimately be a violation of the family of the deceased. Criminal defamation, he said, was also difficult to prove due to the extreme public nature of the YouTube site.

Porter said it was his understanding Lawrenceville police have identified the people involved with creating and posting the video. He believes two separate parties filmed the video and posted it on the Web.

"When you talk about the whole Internet, and social Web sites like MySpace or Facebook, we have a new sort of legal frontier," he said. "This has to do with actions that take place on the Net, whether it's invasion of privacy, cyber-stalking or bullying."

Johnson discovered the video when he performed a Google search of his business, according to a March 6 incident report filed with Lawrenceville police.

The search yielded a YouTube video titled "body burning in Wages Funeral home Lawrenceville Ga" posted Dec. 25, 2007, the report states.

In the short clip - apparently recorded with a cell phone camera - Johnson said an individual is seen opening the hatch to a crematory oven during the "end process" of a cremation. He said the individual in view of the camera then makes a comment about seeing the body's skull.

Johnson called the video "childish" and "disrespectful," citing it was an invasion of the company's privacy.

He said it's difficult to determine who filmed the video. In late 2007 - the time in which the video was most likely created - as many as three electric crews were in and out of the Lawrenceville facility for scheduled expansion work.

He said he has not heard back from Lawrenceville police with regards to the identities of the individuals.

Lawrenceville police did not return repeated phone calls Thursday.

The video has been removed by YouTube after attorneys for the funeral home filed an injunction against Internet giant Google, owner of site, Johnson said.

Buford-based attorney Walt Britt, who represents the funeral home, declined to comment for this story.

Information provided by YouTube states the site prohibits inappropriate content. "Our community understands the rules and effectively polices the site for inappropriate material," according to a company statement.

YouTube does not disclose how many times the site is visited daily.