3 ON YOUR SIDE: Woman claims cemetery staff vandalized gravesites
A woman claims a Chattanooga cemetery is disrespecting graves by driving over stones and creating a muddy mess.
Deandrea Fuqua comes to visit the cemetery when she needs to feel closer to her mom.
"She was diagnosed with cancer. Breast cancer. And they cut it. And then it spread to three parts of her body," Fuqua said.
Shirley Bowman was 51 when she died in 2001.
The family buried her at Lakewood Memorial Gardens East on Shallowford Road.
Fuqua said there's something about visiting her mom's grave that makes it seem like heaven isn't so far away.
"No matter what I was going through, I was able to go to her. Instead of someone else. If it was good or bad or terrible, it didn't matter," she added.
Fuqua said she's never had any problems during her visits a couple times a week until three weeks ago when she discovered tire tracks going through and over grave markers where Fuqua's mom is buried and every time she tried to talk to staff about the problem, she said no one was in the office.
"The flower thing was turned inside out, as you noticed in the video. So I'm like, someone took her flowers? And then I seen the mud and I thought, oh noooo this is not it," she added.
That's why she called Channel 3.
A staff member asked us to leave the property during our interview with Fuqua.
We stopped by the office to find out if the damage was caused by vandals.
The manager of the property declined our request to go on camera but did tell us the damage was caused by heavy machinery used by staff and recent rain.
Lakewood Memorial Gardens East did send us a statement saying:
"Lakewood Memorial Gardens' mission is to help families memorialize every life with dignity, including providing and maintaining a tranquil and beautiful place for memorialization. In this instance, we have fallen short of our standards. The matter is being addressed, and we want to reassure our families and the local community that we are committed to serving them and their loved ones."
Fuqua hopes moving forward the staff will be more aware of where they are driving.
"No matter if it's a child, grandparent, mother, father, uncle, auntie, whoever. No, it's disrespectful," she said.
Channel 3 reached out to Tennessee's Department of Commerce and Insurance.
We found out the cemetery was named with 15 others in a large consent order.
This cemetery was reprimanded for charging processing fees that exceeded the allowable amount.
Documents show this happened four times in 2013.
To file a complaint about any cemetery in Tennessee, click HERE.