DALLAS - A judge has ruled that a North Texas man’s biological family does have the right to bury him.
James Fofanah died a few weeks ago after being hit by a drunken driver on the LBJ Freeway in Garland. He had stopped to help a woman from Arkansas who was involved in a minor crash. Police said 23-year-old Ashlyn Hurley then slammed into them, killing them both.
Fofanah came to the U.S. as a young boy with relatives after they fled from Sierra Leone, Africa. After allegations of abuse in 2012, he ended up in the state's custody as a foster child. Although he had “aged out” of the system, his biological family said Child Protective Services took custody of his body and arranged a funeral without involving them.
A statement from CPS said in part, “This young man came into foster care as a child because he was mistreated by his caregivers to the point where his parents’ rights were terminated. CPS was legally his family."
But family members told a different story and argued they were trying to reconnect. Fofanah’s family told the court they wanted to give him a burial to honor his Sierra Leone culture.
"We put in a lot of work and James had put in a lot of work and turned out to be a good person. He turned out to do something real, real good. He was doing something great. So if people don't know, this is what family does," said Foday Fofanah, Fofanah's biological brother who raised him as a son.
The judge on Tuesday gave the family custody of the 20-year-old’s body for a service and burial.
"The challenge we had was what was CPS's interest in all this," said attorney Ike Emarum. "And like it happened today in court, they didn't have any."
CPS will still conduct a small memorial service in Waxahachie for case workers and others from the foster care system to pay their respects.
"It certainly is time for him to be laid to rest, and we don't oppose that in any way," said Marissa Gonzalez with CPS. "He was a special young man."
A CPS spokeswoman after the hearing said the agency respects the judge's decision and thinks the most important thing is that Fofanah will be laid to rest. After that happens, the body will be returned to family in Dallas.