UPDATE: Sunset Memorial Gardens, state reach agreement to oversee cemetery
The court has ordered a Volunteer Citizens Advisory Board of 5 members to oversee the cemetery.
UPDATE: The state of Tennessee and the Owner of Sunset Memorial Gardens in Cleveland reached an agreement in Bradley County Chancery Court, Monday.
The court has ordered a Volunteer Citizens Advisory Board consisting of 5 members, including one ex-officio member with experience working on behalf of the Commissioner of Commerce and Insurance, Burial Services Division, to oversee the cemetery.
The group will review all future complaints concerning the operation of Sunset Memorial Gardens while participating as desired in all inspections of the mausoleum structures as well as all inspections performed by the state. In addition, cemetery officials are now required to provide a written response to any individual who makes a complaint as approved by the Citizens Advisory Board. According to the agreement, the board will serve for at least one year and may dissolve itself thereafter in its sole discretion.
PREVIOUS STORY: "There were no complaints about the odors. No complaints and no evidence of leaks. Nothing. So we think we've solved the problems," said attorney William Colvin, who represents the owner of Sunset Memorial Gardens in Cleveland.
Colvin said the cemetery passed its latest state inspection two weeks ago.
A court order required cemetery owner, Cecil Lawrence, and his attorney, to address and respond to 240 complaints filed with the state last year.
"Many of them had no information that we could tie to anything. They had no date when they were there. A large number of them were general housekeeping things, like cut the grass more," Colvin said.
For about three years, visitors reported odors in the mausoleum and at one point, body fluid leaking from crypts.
The cemetery removed the carpet, and replaced it with vinyl over the summer. In November, an outside agency inspected every crypt and found no evidence of leaks or odors.
But the cemetery could face more legal action in Bradley County.
"The circumstances there have resulted in a great deal of emotional pain," said Cleveland attorney, James Logan.
Under state law, the district attorney can file a claim against a cemetery for maintenance and operation issues. Local attorneys are hearing from many concerned families.
"I've been consulted by over 200 people concerning the conditions, which they find to be unacceptable," Logan said.
However, the cemetery says its problems are now fixed.
"They were told it's the best that facility has ever looked," Colvin said.
Attorneys filed responses to the state regarding all complaints last fall. It is unclear if the state agency will respond to all individual complaints it received.
According to the Tennessee Dept. of Commerce and Insurance:
Our Burial Services Division representatives visited Sunset Memorial Gardens in February to check the condition of the cemetery and follow up on individual complaints. Burial Services noticed a marked improvement in the condition of the grounds since their last visit. Further, Burial Services discussed all facets of their operations with Sunset representatives. We believe that Sunset has adequately addressed the issues in the Consent Order at this time.
That said, all the conditions of the Consent Order remain in place. (Through a legally binding Consent Order, the cemetery ownership has agreed to required inspections of the mausoleums for the next five years (2016 through 2020). The cemetery ownership has also agreed to required quarterly inspections by the staff of the Department of Commerce and Insurance over the next two years regarding general cemetery upkeep, burial procedures, and administrative issues.)
There will be continuing inspections to ensure that Sunset maintains the requirements moving forward.