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UPDATE: State requires cemetery to respond to complaints, increases inspections

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A Cleveland-based cemetery and mausoleum with a long history of reported problems will be required to respond to more than 215 complaints of loved ones within 75 days, according to an addendum issued this week regarding an August compliance order.

This week the Department of Insurance and Commerce issued the order for Sunset Memorial Gardens in Cleveland owned by Georgia-based Cecil Lawrence LLC.

While the state is requiring a written response and plan of action for all of the submitted complaints, there is no deadline for the cemetery to make any needed repairs highlighted in the complaints.

READ MORE | More than 125 complaints pending against Cecil Lawrence-owned cemeteries

However, with daily inspections and new guidelines for entombments, the state is hopeful issues will be resolved.

“It addresses current and longstanding issues stemming from this licensee’s operation of their cemetery and mausoleum and subjects the property to five years of professional inspections, as well as additional regulatory compliance inspections for the next two years,” said Kevin Walters, spokesman for the Department of Commerce and Insurance.

If the cemetery fails to take action, it could be subject to more fines, according to the nine-page order. 

William Colvin, an attorney who represents Lawrence, said he's in  the process of going through the complaints. He described some of the complaints as "intriguing" saying some dated back to before Lawrence acquired the burial site and mausoleums at Sunset in 2002.

"We are still puzzled. The majority we've seen were never voiced to management," Colvin said. "It's an ongoing process. We will provide a written response to the state."

“Time is of the essence for compliance with any and all terms of this order unless otherwise agreed in writing,” the order states.

Complaints about Sunset poured in after local funeral home director Ralph Buckner Jr. asked families of loved ones at the cemetery to come forward in a full page ad that ran in the Cleveland Daily Banner. Buckner’s daughter and parents are entombed in the mausoleum where there have been reported problems of odors and bodily fluids leaking.

The order also requires monthly inspections from a third party entombment company, Ensure-A-Seal, for the months of May through September though the year 2020.

READ MORE | Families call for cleanup at Cleveland cemetery

Lawrence can ask the state for a reduction in the number of future inspections if nothing is found.

State inspectors will also be making quarterly inspections through 2017 giving staff a three-hour notice before they arrive.

This latest order from the state comes after the state received a 32-page final inspection report from Ensure-A-Seal making a total of nine recommendations. The state signed off on the report.

As part of the company’s assessment of the mausoleum, 33 occupied crypt front and nine open crypt fronts were removed for inspection for entombments ranging from 1981 to 2014. On average, Sunset has more than 20 entombments each year for the mausoleum first erected in the 1950s.

Earlier this month, private inspectors found no fluid stains, leakage or odors.

“There were at least three different types of shutters and four different types of caulking used over the past 60 plus years,” said David Yearsley, founder and CEO of Ensure-A-Seal. “This is not uncommon given management and employment changes over the years.”

Amongst the recommendations, Sunset will have a third party inspector examine every caulked crypt. Areas will have to be re-caulked when necessary. 

Colvin said that requirement has been fulfilled. Every crypt has been inspected and that no evidence of leakage or odors was found by Ensure-A-Seal inspectors. He planned to forward a report to the state today. Colvin said less 20 crypts needed caulking around the shutter seals. 

All new entombment will be sealed in casket protectors. A daily monitoring program inside the mausoleum will start. There will also be a monitoring program for the exterior of the mausoleum, but the report did not specify how often monitoring would take place.

READ MORE | Bradley County cemetery has 30 days for plan to stop smell

The report also requires the establishment of written standard policies and procedures for crypt. There should also be a standard plan for in-ground removals.

Ensure-A-Seal will also inspect and provide written reports twice a year.

“There will always be a chance that a casket in an occupied crypt chamber could become active for fluids or decomposition odor in the future,” Yearsley said. “With the cemetery personnel monitoring conditions on a daily basis, they will be proactive, with a plan to address any future concerns.”

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