By MIRANDA CANTRELL
For The Licking Valley Courier
Attorneys representing former Coroner Raymond Vancleave have filed an answer to claims made against him by a Magoffin County man in an abuse of corpse lawsuit.
Court records show that attorneys Erica K. Mack and John K. Wood of the Lexington law firm Walther, Gay & Mack PLLC, filed the document on Oct. 16 in response to a complaint filed by Salyersville attorney Don McFarland on behalf of Basill Ray Peyton, also of Salyersville, on Sept. 12, in Morgan Circuit Court.
McFarland alleged in his complaint that Vancleave had mishandled the body of Basill Peyton’s deceased brother, former Morgan County resident Nathan Peyton, 46, who died on Dec. 30, 2022, at his home.
The civil suit further claimed that Nathan Peyton was left in a body bag inside Vancleave’s vehicle after his death on Dec. 30, 2022, which McFarland described in court documents as an “unseasonably warm” day.
McFarland asserted that Vancleave’s morgue privileges at Morgan County ARH were revoked prior to Nathan Peyton’s death – and that upon Vancleave’s retrieval of the deceased, the body was allegedly left inside an SUV at Vancleave’s residence an “entire afternoon and night” before being transported to the state medical examiner’s office in Frankfort for autopsy.
According to McFarland’s complaint, Sarah Maines, M.D., of the state medical examiner’s office, noted that Nathan Peyton’s body was “moderately decomposed” at the time of his postmortem examination on Jan. 1, 2023.
McFarland also gave an account of Nathan Peyton’s funeral conducted on Jan. 6, 2023, at Magoffin County Funeral Home in Salyersville, alleging that the decomposition and odor – described as “pungent” and “putrid” – prevented embalming and caused sickness among pallbearers and other mourners who attended the service.
Also listed as defendants in McFarland’s complaint were former Judge Executive John Will Stacy, as well as the five magistrates who served on the fiscal court as of Dec. 30, 2022, including Brandon Evans, Carter Bolin, Donnie Keeton, Darrell Patrick and Leroy Phipps.
Basill Peyton, administrator of his brother’s estate, accused Stacy and the magistrates of being “negligent, careless and reckless,” and stated that they “either knew or should have known and failed to discover” Vancleave’s alleged mishandling of deceased bodies in Morgan County.
(Stacy, Bolin and Patrick no longer hold public office, as their terms expired on Jan. 1, 2023.)
Attorneys for Stacy and the magistrates on Oct. 6 filed a motion that Basill Peyton’s claims against them be dismissed.
Vancleave’s attorneys responded to all allegations cited in Don McFarland’s complaint, stating that Vancleave denies any alleged abuse of Nathan Peyton’s corpse, though he admits he did leave the body in his vehicle overnight:
“Defendant admits that there was no morgue or other appropriate facility available to Defendant in Morgan County to store Mr. Peyton’s body. Defendant further admits that he did not feel safe driving at night to and from the State Medical Examiner’s Office in Frankfort after he retrieved Mr. Peyton’s body. Defendant admits that, given the circumstances, he was left with no choice but to keep Mr. Peyton’s body in his vehicle overnight and drove Mr. Peyton’s body to Frankfort the next morning.
“Defendant admits that Morgan County did not at the relevant time and does not currently have a morgue. Defendant further admits that he did not have access to any other appropriate facility in Morgan County to store Mr. Peyton’s body.”
Attorneys noted that Vancleave denies Don McFarland’s claim that the former coroner’s morgue/freezer/cooling privileges had been suspended at Morgan County ARH or any other appropriate facility due to his alleged failure to retrieve bodies on a timely basis.
Additionally, Vancleave – like his co-defendants – cited immunity as a former county official:
“Plaintiff’s complaint and the allegations therein are barred by the doctrines of governmental, legislative, sovereign immunity, official immunity, and/or qualified official immunity in as much as any and all of this Defendant’s actions or omissions were in good faith and within the exercise of his duties as the Morgan County Coroner and /or were within his exercise of judgement or discretion. Therefore, Defendant is immune from liability pursuant to KRS 65.2001, KRS 65.2003, KRS 72.410, and/or other applicable statutes, regulations or ordinances.”
Attorneys stated that Vancleave had “acted in conformity with all applicable statutes, regulations ordinance and common law” in regard to Nathan Peyton’s death, opining that the suit should be dismissed due to Basill Peyton’s “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted” and to “join an indispensable party” prior to addressing damages cited by Basill Peyton:
“The damages alleged by Plaintiff in his Complaint, which are specifically denied, were caused or brought about by the negligence of another party or a third party, and but for said contributory negligence, said damages, if any, would not and could not have occurred. In the event it is determined that this Defendant is to any extent at fault for the damages alleged in the Complaint, which fault is specifically denied, the liability of this Defendant is limited in accordance with the percentage of fault allocated to him by the ultimate trier of fact and/or law.”
Vancleave’s legal team has also requested that the court award him his attorneys’ fees and associated costs, and grant him any other relief to which he may be entitled.
Other Details Of Basill Peyton’s Suit
Basill Peyton is seeking judgements against Vancleave and the other defendants for the following elements of damages:
• Past mental and physical pain, suffering and inconvenience.
• Future mental health and physical pain, suffering and inconvenience.
• Future hospital and medical expenses, and past hospital and medical expenses.
• Miscellaneous expenses incurred by the plaintiff, including but not limited to travel expenses necessitated by the negligent, grossly negligent and/or reckless acts of the defendants.
• Court costs.
• Pre- and post-judgment.
Additionally, Basill Peyton has asked for a trial by jury, as well as all other relief to which he may be entitled.
Vancleave was initially elected coroner in 2010 and served in that capacity until his resignation and subsequent retirement – which Don McFarland alleged were prompted by his notice of Basill Peyton’s claims to the fiscal court – in May.
The lawsuit, styled as Basill Ray Peyton vs. Raymond Vancleave et al, and all associated documents can be viewed in their entirety at Circuit Clerk Geannie Wright’s office in the judicial center.
Additional updates regarding this case will be noted in the Courier as they become available.