It’s Tuesday morning in Arizona, and Jason and Michael Schoenfeld are planning an unexpected trip to the airport.
Their uncle, Carl Robinson, was killed in by a runaway electric lorry in Copenhagen on August 29, and, to the family’s surprise, his body was expected to arrive in Arizona later that day. They only got confirmation the same day the remains were loaded on the plane.
But the two nephews say that not knowing when the remains of a departed family member would be returned to them has been par for the course in dealing with Danish authorities over the past two weeks.
“We’ve had tremendous help from Danes locally, but in the start there was almost a total lack of information from the police or the city,” Jason Schoenfeld told The Copenhagen Post in a telephone interview.
They said that information only began to flow once articles appeared in the Danish press criticising the police for dragging their feet and being insensitive to the family’s wishes.
Copenhagen Police deputy superintendent Jesper Lotz, however, said his impression of his contact with the family’s mother was that they family was satisfied.
“We kept the family as updated as we could,” Lotz said. “I had contact with the closest members of the family, and I wasn’t made aware of any problems.”
Even without feeling they were being left in the dark, the circumstances of Robinson’s death were hard for the family to take: the recently retired school psychologist, 63, had been travelling on a Scandinavian cruise, when during a stopover in Copenhagen he was struck by a sanitation lorry and dragged 20 metres underneath the two-tonne vehicle before it struck a wall.
A doctor, who happened to witness the accident, tried to help Robinson, but he was declared dead on the scene. An investigation into how the lorry could suddenly start while the driver was out of the vehicle is still underway.
“We’re just devastated,” Michael Schoenfeld says. “He was the only family my mom had. A lot of people are going to miss him. We expect 100 people at his funeral and there will be a memorial for him in Maryland. He affected many people’s lives.”
Even with the problems the family has had, they underscored that they were “deeply grateful” to those regular Danes who had tried to help.
Much of the family’s criticism of the city has to do with its failure to respect Robinson’s last wishes that an autopsy not be carried out and that their religious beliefs be respected.
The family understood that due to the circumstances, it would be impossible to bury the body within 24 hours, as Jewish custom calls for, and they also said that they understood that, as an accident, an autopsy needed to be carried out to determine the precise cause of death. What confused the family though was that the autopsy was performed with a rabbi present against their wishes.
“We spoke with the rabbi, and we spoke with the Jewish undertaker – so what happened?” Michael Schoenfeld said.
The family has yet to receive a police report or the autopsy report – which the brothers said were to be delivered to the US Embassy for translation as soon as they were prepared – but they were informed that their uncle’s body showed “nothing unexpected”.
“So it was like, what was the point of all that?” Jason Schoenfeld said.
And while the family says it is still too early to try and point blame for the accident, the two brothers expressed concern for the driver of the vehicle.
“Our family feels terrible for him,” said Jason Schoenfeld. “It had to have been a terrible experience. Even it if does turn out to have been his fault, that’s not the sort of thing we’d wish on anyone.”
According to reports in the Danish media, city workers driving electric vehicles have asked to be sent out in teams, fearing public reprisals for the incident. Michael Schoenfeld called the development “terrible”.
“Our uncle’s death was tragic, but it was an accident. We don’t want others to suffer.”
“Honestly though,” Jason Schoenfeld added, “we just want people to know that he wasn’t just another American tourist. We wanted to put a face on him for all the people that helped. He held a PhD in psychology, he worked with kids in the Baltimore school system for 40 years, and he was our uncle.”