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Florida man buried in wrong space at city-owned cemetery

Suzie Schottelkotte, The News-Journal, Daytona Beach, Fla. on

Published in News & Features

It's the same dilemma Valisa Grant faced a year ago in the same cemetery when she learned her grand-uncle, Charlie Smith, who had died seven years earlier, had been buried in a space owned by someone else, and the owner would be needing it soon.

"I hadn't saved the documents because he'd been buried -- I didn't think I'd need them," she said. "Then this happened. It's hurtful. You put somebody to rest, and the last thing you want to have to do is to deal with something like this."

Last August, city crews exhumed Smith's remains and moved them across the cemetery, away from his mother and sister, three days before Lucille Davis was buried in the space he'd occupied for seven years.

"We watched them dig him up," said Grant, a hospice nurse. "It was like losing him all over again. I felt like I had let him down."

Bartow isn't alone in grappling with cemetery errors. In recent years, similar incidents have been discovered in city-owned cemeteries in Lake Wales and Haines City. Linda Bourgeois, the city clerk in Haines City, said three errors were discovered during an on-site comparison of the city's records with actual gravesites, and those have resulted in relocations. Another dispute involves whether a gravesite was sold back to the city.

Lake Wales encountered one error two years ago and relocated that grave to the space adjacent to it, said City Clerk Jennifer Nanek.

 

In Bartow, the Pauls said they had purchased the gravesite from the city April 25, 2017, the day Jerry Paul died. At the cemetery, they were led to an area where, they said, they were told eight adjoining spaces were available. They thought they had purchased the one in the center for her father-in-law, Sara Paul said, anticipating they would buy the other seven later so the family could be buried together. A cemetery employee staked out the gravesite they'd chosen.

"He staked it out while we were there," she said. "He was right in the middle."

A year later, just days after the headstone company sought approval to install Paul's monument, the family got a phone call from the city.

"They were saying (his space) was not what we had purchased, and that we'd purchased a single plot 12 to 15 feet from there, in the same row," she said. "But we'd watched him stake out the plot where he was buried."

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