A Hawaii island resident has filed a lawsuit against United Airlines and a Hilo mortuary, saying her husband’s body was delayed on a flight between Hawaii and Omaha and arrived in a decayed state.

Janine Little Brave filed the complaint in Hilo against United Airlines and Dodo Mortuary Thursday through her attorney Gary Zamber.

The complaint says her husband Reginald Little Brave died in 2019 and was embalmed at Dodo Mortuary before being carried on a series of flights to the mainland. The family is Lakota and wanted to bury him in his ancestral homeland according to their Indigenous traditions.

Little Brave and their 6-year-old son flew from Honolulu to Denver on a United Airlines flight with the remains of her husband on board.

A United Airlines airplane approaches Daniel K. Inouye International Airport for a landing. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

It was a red-eye, and Little Brave remembers United Airlines staff helped her view the box carrying his body after they disembarked, with “Little Brave” written on it. The family said a short prayer, then went to catch their next flight, Little Brave said.

She expected her husband’s remains to travel from Denver to Omaha on a separate cargo flight that day and arrive before she and her son got there. But she says when they arrived in Omaha, his body wasn’t there.

Her lawsuit describes how for several hours she didn’t know where he was and worried his body wasn’t refrigerated.

“The loss and misplacement of plaintiff’s husband’s body and subsequent delays resulted in plaintiff Janine experiencing extreme disorientation and emotional distress,” the complaint says.

United Airlines declined to comment on pending litigation. Dodo Mortuary also declined to comment on the complaint, saying they were aware of it but had not formally been served.

After her husband’s remains arrived at the Nebraska mortuary, Little Brave said she remembers the funeral director saying he was in poor condition.

“The deceased was in a decomposing state; was very dark to black in complexion and with sunken and excessively wrinkled skin, he had leaked embalming fluid and was laying in a pool of fluid,” the complaint says.

Little Brave said she filed the lawsuit this week to try to figure out what went wrong and prevent it from happening again.

“I want to know what happened,” she said, adding that she wants to find some answers for her children and honor her husband’s life.

“I want to know what kind of protocols, what are the stepping stones, how can it possibly be prevented in the future,” she said. “So at least there can be something good connected to a horrible situation.”

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