Pandemic preventing mom from getting son’s body home to Australia

Allegan County

ALLEGAN, Mich. (WOOD) — The mother of a man killed in an alcohol-related crash in Allegan County two weeks ago is trying to get her son back home to be laid to rest — but home is half a world away in Australia and complications linked to the COVID-19 pandemic have made the task incredibly difficult and expensive.

Marcus Joshua DiFonzo grew up in Victoria in the southern part of Australia. His mother Ellen Smail said he loved outdoor sports, basketball and football and was an adventurous guy loved by many on two continents.

“He was actually a bit of a bugger as a kid,” Smail said. “He really very nearly had it all. No one’s perfect but he was just gifted with just so much.”

She wasn’t thrilled when her son came to America a couple years ago and settled in Allegan County.

“He was trying to make a go of living in America. It was a dream of his. I don’t know where it came from. We don’t have any connections over there,” Smail said.

DiFonzo was on his way to the casino just before 2 a.m. July 11 when his car was struck by an SUV on 118th Avenue west of the city of Allegan.

A few hours before DiFonzo’s death, his mother talked with and texted him. She was trying to reach him as he was declared dead at the scene by authorities. He was 33.

“I just want him back home and I’m running out of time to be able to see him before his final resting place,” Smail said.

She said getting his body to Australia from the U.S. would have been challenging at any time. Now, pandemic protocols have made the cost is enormous, with multiple flights and mandates meant to keep the virus from spreading.

“He has to be moved from one casket to another. You never want to pick one casket out for your child, let alone two,” Smail said.

Friends set up a GoFundMe account to try to cover the costs, which will exceed $30,000.

“He needs to be home. I’m his mom and I just need to say goodbye,” Smail said.

She and her son’s siblings have not been able to get together and, like in Michigan, Australia has restrictions on public gatherings. Still, Smail says there will be a big party for her son with all of the people who care about him after COVID-19 is finally under control.

Though his mother is trying to focus on getting her son back hone, she wants to see the young woman who was behind the wheel of the SUV held responsible. Allegan County authorities say that driver tested positive for alcohol and admitted to marijuana use. Police are awaiting toxicology test results before sending the case to the prosecutor’s office, where a decision on charges will be made.

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