Tragedy worsened by insurance denial
After Tribune inquiry, parents finally find way to bury son's ashes
On Easter weekend 2013, brothers Ryan and Kyle Flotow were enjoying a reunion of sorts with friends at a bar in Rolling Prairie.
The two North Liberty brothers who were so close in age they were also best friends -- 22 and 21, respectively -- were also celebrating the used car Ryan had just bought off Craigslist.
His parents now believe that car and its laundry list of safety issues, including an unlit dashboard and a passenger-seat belt that apparently didn't function, contributed to the catastrophe that would end the revelry the early morning of March 31.
Not long after the brothers left the Little Tavern Too on that rainy night, Ryan crashed his new 2006 silver Mitsubishi Eclipse into a tree on 875 East near 100 North outside Mill Creek, killing his brother, who was partially ejected from the passenger seat.
According to documents, Ryan told officers at the scene he had been drinking, and he expressed remorse that he didn't realize how much. He has been charged in his brother's death, and his criminal case is still pending in LaPorte County.
Meanwhile, his parents -- Lori and Mark Flotow and his stepmother, Bobbie -- were left with the excruciatingly sad tasks of watching one son arrested and jailed while making arrangements to bury another.
Notes in a doctor's file
When Kyle himself had borrowed money from his grandparents to buy a used car in 2012, Lori Flotow said his stepgrandfather insisted the young man be insured by a small life insurance policy of $25,000 to cover the loan in case something should happen to him.
That process consisted of the older man taking the younger one to his MetLife insurance agent and filling out a form.
After Kyle's death in the traffic crash, his family -- already robbing savings accounts to pay the $6,500 for his funeral and cremation and trying to find money to bury him -- say they were floored to learn the insurance company denied the claim, citing "undisclosed treatment" of bipolar disorder in his family doctor's records.
Lori Flotow said that when Kyle was 19 and had just broken up with a girlfriend, she took him to the doctor because he had been showing typical signs of depression.
Doctor's records she has received since list some of the symptoms: anxiety, sleeplessness, lack of concentration, irritability. Among other possibilities, the doctor's notes include "Suspect Bipolar II."
Lori Flotow said her son returned to that doctor only once more, for an infection, and never followed up with a counselor or a psychiatrist for a diagnosis of a mental illness. And she said although the doctor prescribed a medication, Kyle seemed to move on from the breakup after a few months and apparently quit taking the medicine, too.
Indeed, the autopsy report after the car crash two years after the doctor's visit showed only alcohol and nicotine in the young man's system when he died.
Once it became known the family was struggling to pay Kyle's funeral bills, the owner of another local bar, the Billy Goat 9 & Dine in New Carlisle, approached the family at Kyle's funeral and offered to hold a benefit there, Mark Flotow said.
He said Sharon Cooper, who did not respond to several calls from The Tribune, offered to donate the cover fees, profits from alcohol sales and other money raised from the May 25, 2013, benefit.
The Flotows say they encouraged friends and family members to attend, and the bar was full that evening. A band donated its time, and Mark Flotow donated bread, buns and gift certificates from a bakery he works for, he said.
But they say Cooper turned over nothing, later telling them an employee stole the proceeds.
"They just took the money and never talked to us again," Bobbie Flotow said. "We were really struggling."
A spokeswoman from the New Carlisle Police Department said last week she found no reports of theft in 2013 from the bar's address or connected with Cooper or the bar.
'Joy and relief'
The family's appeals of the insurance policy denial -- both to MetLife and the Indiana Department of Insurance -- were fruitless.
But after The Tribune recently approached the insurance company with the whole story, higher-level officials reviewed the case and reversed the decision.
"At MetLife, our customers are at the center of everything we do, and we strive to deliver the service and compassion they expect from us. As is our standard process -- consistent with Indiana law -- when anyone passes away within two years of purchasing life insurance, we conducted a review following Mr. Flotow's death," spokeswoman Kim Friedman wrote in an email.
"Upon further review of the specific details and circumstances of this case," she wrote Thursday afternoon, "MetLife has reached out to the beneficiary to resolve the claim in a manner we believe will be satisfactory to all."
Indeed, Lori Flotow said she heard from the company Friday that it would send a check for the full amount Saturday or today by Fed-Ex.
The Flotows intend to inter Kyle's ashes in a new memorial garden, Lakeview Memorial Park, under development by Lakeview Funeral Home and Crematory in LaPorte. The owner has donated a plot for Kyle, and the money will now pay for a headstone there.
They want a place to remember the redheaded son they recall as ornery and stubborn but also fearless, funny and so friendly he didn't know a stranger.
And they hope their story might help others avoid similar red tape.
"I miss my son so much," Lori Flotow said earlier, "and my financial resources and mental strength are wearing thin."
But after hearing the insurance company came through, she wrote in an email Friday morning, she was "crying tears of joy and relief."