The pain and grief surrounding the sudden loss of a loved one was compounded for one Phoenix family by the actions of the Maricopa County Medical Examiner's Office.
Christopher Scott Jones, 44, was found dead July 16 in a van parked at a home owned by an acquaintance, Mark Skalberg.
The two men had met a few months before and Skalberg said he offered to help Jones out by letting him sleep in his van from time to time and using it to store his belongings.
Skalberg said he got a call from a probation officer asking him to try to make contact with Jones. When he went to the van to do so, he made the gruesome discovery.
"I went to open the door and you know I could tell that something wasn't right. And it had a really foul odor," Skalberg said.
Phoenix police responded and estimated Jones had been dead for at least two days. The extreme heat had caused an already advanced stage of decomposition, making Jones nearly unrecognizable. Investigators did not suspect foul play, but called the Maricopa County Medical Examiner's Office to get the body to determine the cause of death.
After an hours-long investigation, police and medical examiner technicians left the scene and turned the van back over to Skalberg.
"I figured everything is good to go. They were here almost all day long. I assumed that everything was fine," Skalberg said.
Skalberg said he opened the side doors to the van and set up a fan to help disperse the stench.
A few days later, Skalberg opened the back doors of the van to retrieve Jones' possessions for his family. When he did, he made a second terrifying discovery that a week later still causes him to tremor and lose his composure.
"He had all his stuff in there. So I went to open the back door and I just leaned in and I thought for a minute that, uhm, he was still there," Skalberg said. "I could see the whole top of his head, 'cause he had long hair and it just looked like he had the blanket up."
Inside the van, was a large piece of Jones' scalp, his signature long curly hair still attached. In the middle of the very large section of hair, was a rubber tie that Jones use to wear to put his hair in a ponytail. Skalberg alerted Jones' family, who called the police and the medical examiner's office.
They were outraged and traumatized by the discovery. Jones' sister-in-law went to see the condition of the van and shared her experience with Jones' ex-wife Tamara Maier.
"She told me that she thought his head was still in the van, is what she thought," Maier said. "There was so much hair and it looked like skin. It looked like he was face down and his whole head was in there," said Maier.
According to Skalberg and family members, technicians from the medical examiner's office returned to the scene to collect the scalp and hair that was missed the first time. It became detached because of the body's decomposition, technicians said.
"I feel like someone didn't do their job," Maier said. "They really didn't do their job.
"They should not have left a huge piece of his body behind. I mean his whole head almost. All the skin from his head. That's what it looked like to me. I just don't feel that that's right," Maier said.
CBS 5 News brought this incident to the attention of Cari Gerchick, the spokeswoman for the Maricopa County Medical Examiner.
Gerchick said technicians collect the biological and physiological evidence necessary to conduct an autopsy and in this instance they did not collect all the evidence that was there.
"It is not acceptable," Gerchick said. "This entire situation has led us to perform an incident review. We are going to look at policies and procedures to make sure that all of our different forensic technologists and investigators practice and perform the same standards."
Gerchick said the actions of Medical Examiner's Office were insensitive and inexcusable.
"We apologize. We absolutely apologize," Gerchick said.
But for Maier, an apology might not be enough.
"I had to tell my son his father died and then I had to tell him this," Maier said. "I want them to be held accountable for that. I want new procedures in place so this never happens to anyone again. I just don't want them to do this to any other family."
Gerchick said that, sadly, by making mistakes and those mistakes being brought to their attention is how they make improvements and avoid mistakes in the future.
"The men and women of the medical examiner are committed to their jobs, committed to professionalism and we will make sure this doesn't happen again," Gerchick said.
One of the big concerns Jones' family expressed is a need to know that what the ME collected on their return trip to the van what was reunited with the remains of their loved one prior to the cremation of his body.
Skalberg said the technicians assured him that would be revealed.
Gerchick confirmed that on July 24, the ME's office did return to collect the rest of the evidence left behind. According to Gerchick all of Jones' remains were together when he was cremated.
Copyright 2014 CBS 5 (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.