Two Irish friends died of fentanyl poisoning in Florida. Authorities say the wrong one was cremated

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Florida officials mislabeled the remains of two Irish nationals who died of drug overdoses, leading to a mix-up of their autopsies and the “highly probable” cremation of the wrong body, authorities said.

Kane Mitchell, 30, and Luke Comiskey, 31, died in April 2022 after consuming fentanyl-laced drugs one of them bought from a man he’d allegedly met a day earlier.

The two friends were from the Dublin area and living together in Pinellas Park, near St. Petersburg. Their employer discovered their bodies in their apartment while checking on them after they missed work, the Pinellas Park Police Department said.

A Florida funeral home shipped the men’s remains to Ireland, according to a letter from a Florida medical examiner’s office. One was cremated and the other was not, per the families’ wishes.

But in July, three months after their deaths, the men’s families noticed discrepancies in the autopsy reports that led authorities to discover an error in the labeling of the remains, the letter said.

The men’s families then realized that Mitchell’s remains had been buried in Comiskey’s family plot in Dublin, according to correspondence between authorities in Florida and an Irish consulate general. They also learned that Comiskey, not Mitchell, had been cremated.

CNN recently learned of the mix-up from a law enforcement source who asked not to be identified because they’re not authorized to speak with the media about the case. A CNN request under open-records law revealed documents confirming the mix-up, including letters from the Irish consulate in Atlanta to the medical examiner’s office and investigators involved in the case.

The men’s identification was done correctly when they were first discovered, but the error likely occurred when their tags “were crossed up” in subsequent labeling, William Pellan, director of Investigations at the District Six Medical Examiner Office, wrote in an August 2022 letter to the consulate general of Ireland in Atlanta, which oversees the southeastern US.

As a result, it’s highly likely that the cremated remains, initially believed to be of Kane Mitchell, were those of Luke Comiskey, the August 2022 letter said.

“Our office is very remorseful about the tragedy of this situation,” Pellan wrote.

“Obviously they have been through a lot of late with the loss of their family member and subsequent misidentification and burial of his remains in Luke Comiskey’s plot,” the letter said.

One victim met the alleged drug dealer a day before the men died

CNN has reached out to the families of both victims. The Irish Department of Foreign Affairs said it’s “aware of the case” and is providing consular assistance. A spokesperson declined to provide additional information, saying the Department does not comment on the details of individual cases.

It’s unclear how long Luke and Mitchell had lived in Florida or where they worked.

The man who police allege sold the drugs, James Richard Peoples III, 35, was arrested last month and charged with two counts of first-degree murder in their deaths.

Peoples exchanged text messages with one of the victims, and said he’d get him “powder” – a term he acknowledged usually refers to cocaine, according to an arrest affidavit from Pinellas Park police. He admitted he drove to the victims’ apartment and sold narcotics, but denied providing the fentanyl, the arrest affidavit said.

The public defender’s office, which is representing Peoples, declined to comment. His next court hearing is scheduled for March 18.

The mix-up of the men’s remains was discovered three months later

The documents revealed bits and pieces of what happened in the wake of the men’s deaths.

In the August 2022 letter, the District Six Medical Examiner Office said it assigned case numbers to each victim after police alerted them to the deaths.

“Per the desires and at the direction of the families, arrangements were made for both decedents to be transferred to Ireland for services and final disposition,” the letter said. “Both decedents were released from the Medical Examiner Office to a local funeral home in St. Petersburg, Florida, on April 27, 2022.”

After a toxicology report listed fentanyl toxicity as the cause of death for both, the medical examiner’s office emailed the autopsy reports to the respective families in July 2022.

That’s when the victims’ loved ones discovered the mix-up, according to the August letter from the medical examiner’s office.

The Pinellas County Forensic Science Center in Largo, Florida -- home to the medical examiner's office. - Chris O'Mera/APThe Pinellas County Forensic Science Center in Largo, Florida -- home to the medical examiner's office. - Chris O'Mera/AP

The Pinellas County Forensic Science Center in Largo, Florida — home to the medical examiner’s office. – Chris O’Mera/AP

The letter said they noted some discrepancies in the physical descriptions contained in the autopsy and notified the medical examiner’s office two weeks later on August 12, 2022.

After looking at digital photos, past documents, and verifying the past injuries and tattoos on the victims, the medical examiner’s office determined that their remains had been mislabeled. It’s unclear at what point the mix-up occurred, the letter said.

“It has been determined with a high degree of certainty that the two decedents appear to have been mislabeled at the location of death or upon delivery to the Medical Examiner Office,” the letter said.

“This very unfortunate mistake resulted in reports of autopsy being produced with the wrong decedent name, but more significantly, the decedents being released from the Medical Examiner Office with the wrong identity affixed to identification labels,” the letter said.

The District Six Medical Examiner Office did not respond to CNN’s request for additional details. In an email to CNN, it said the victims’ cases are “under active criminal investigation.”

Pellan, of the District Six Medical Examiner Office, said in his August letter that his office launched an investigation as soon as the family notified them of their concerns.

“Both families were informed from the very beginning that any costs associated with this very unfortunate chain of events will be paid for by this office,” he wrote. “I have spoken to both (families) multiple times to provide them with updates and keeping open lines of communication. I have spoken with both funeral homes in Ireland about the situation.”

Plans were underway to exhume Mitchell’s body and confirm his identity through tattoos and DNA analysis, Pellan wrote in August 2022. He said his office was prepared to send their forensic pathologists to Dublin on the day of the exhumation to help verify the victims’ identities.

CNN could not determine if the body had been exhumed and identified. Pellan did not respond to CNN’s request for comment.

Authorities warn of the deadly perils of fentanyl abuse

Fentanyl is about 100 times more potent than morphine, another common opioid.

There are legitimate medical uses for fentanyl, including treating cancer patients who are in extreme pain, according to Dr. Leana Wen, a former Baltimore health commissioner. But drug dealers also can manufacture it in illegal labs, leading to an epidemic of overdose deaths in recent years.

From 2003 to 2020, Americans who died while visiting Florida were 63% more likely to be victims of a drug overdose compared to those who died while visiting other states, according to a report released in February.  The report, published in the journal Injury Prevention, reviewed over 47 million US death certificates.

Florida’s Department of Law Enforcement reported 6,157 opioid-related deaths in 2022, the most recent year for which data is available — a 4% decrease from the previous year.

“The devastating consequences of fentanyl abuse are clear in this heartbreaking incident,” Pinellas Park Chief of Police Adam Geissenberger said in a statement. “… We will pursue justice relentlessly and continue our efforts to safeguard our community from the perils of this deadly substance.”

After the Florida deaths, stunned members of the Irish community in New York, where both men had spent time, hosted a memorial service.

At the May 2022 service at St. Barnabas Church in the Bronx borough of New York City, mourners became emotional as they shared memories of the two men they described as close friends.

One friend joked about Comiskey’s striking looks, joking that men held their women closer every time he walked into a room.  He described Comiskey as a loyal friend, a great Gaelic football and soccer player and boxer, and an avid traveler. Comiskey loved playing the guitar and had been to several countries, including Australia and Spain.

Mitchell was remembered as “jack of all trades” who thrived outdoors. He was passionate about fishing and camping, and would pitch a tent out in nature even on rainy days, another friend said.

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Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams is a writer and editor. Angeles. She writes about politics, art, and culture for LinkDaddy News.

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