Burial plot mix-up brings family new grief

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Moses Davis was supposed to be buried next to his wife in the plot he bought at Edgewood Cemetery in Northwest Jacksonville 18 years ago when his wife Evelyn died.  But right before the funeral, the family learned that the plot meant for Moses already had someone buried there.

Their son, Lorenza Davis, says he was told by the cemetery that they could not simply move the unknown casket to make room for his father because  it is against the law to dig someone up unless the family grants permission. Since it was not known who was actually buried there, there was no way to get permission from the family.

Davis and his nine other brothers and sisters were faced with a terrible decision.  They either had to bury their father in a separate plot far away from his wife, which they knew was against his wishes, or agree to dig up their mother's remains and bury both parents somewhere else together.

In the end, the Davis family decided to dig up their mother's remains and bury their parents side by side at another location.  They were forced to have two funerals in one day.

Ted Pina is the Davis family's attorney and is seeking answers for this horrible mix-up. "If it's a mistake we want them to put in procedures to make sure this doesn't happen again. If it was done somehow intentionally, if it was double sold, we think they should answer for that."

We wanted answers too. We went to the office at Edgewood Cemetery, but we were turned away with a number to call in Texas. As it turns out, the cemetery was sold a few years after Moses Davis bought his plot to the largest funeral services company in the world. It's called Service Corporation International.

A media spokesperson told us over the phone that the former owners never had a record indicating a body was buried next to Moses' wife, so they didn't know a body was there.  And for that reason they still have no idea who the person buried there is. 

We did some background checking on Service Corporation International. It owns three other cemeteries and 11 funeral establishments here in Duval County.    According to the state's Division of Funeral and Cemetery Services there have been nine complaints filed against it since 2007.  However, none of the complaints involved burial plots that were occupied and then sold, like in the Davis case.  None found SCI in violation of any law.  SCI was not disciplined for any of the 9 complaints.

The state confirms for WJXT there are eight licensed cemeteries and 54 licensed funeral establishments in Duval County (this includes SCI and all other cemeteries and funeral establishments in Duval County).  According to the division's records, there have been 25 complaints against cemeteries and 28 filed against funeral establishments in Duval County.

The most common type of consumer call received concerns the property not being maintained adequately – some examples would include grass not being mowed, or grass dying due to lack of watering, pot holes in the roadways or lawn areas, cracks in the sidewalks, fire-ant mounds, etc.

The division handles approximately 390 complaints yearly, statewide and has approximately 9,000 licensees. 

What kind of advice can you give someone about buying a burial plot? What questions should they ask?

? If you are buying the burial plot in advance, visit the cemetery several times, over several months, and note whether the appearance of the cemetery consistently pleases you; call or visit the cemetery several times before buying.

? If a death has occurred and you are in grief, take another family member or friend with you when buying the burial plot for the deceased.

? Call the Funeral & Cemetery Division and ask if the cemetery has ever been disciplined, and if yes, about what?

? If other family members have previously been interred in the cemetery, has the family been happy with the way the cemetery has handled the matter?

? When the cemetery proposes to sell you a specific burial plot, ask them to take you out and show you the specific location.  Do you like it? 

? Make sure you read whatever they ask you to sign, and if you do not understand it, ask for an explanation, and be sure to get a copy for your records.

? Make sure to obtain and keep a copy of the contract and everything else you sign. 

? Ask for a copy of the cemetery By-laws.

? Ask if you can use an independent monument dealer to provide the grave marker or monument.  The answer should be yes.

? Ask if there will be additional charges for opening and closing the grave at the time of burial.  These charges are legitimate, but many consumers who buy plots in advance are surprised that those charges are not included in the price of the burial plot.

? If time allows, comparison shop multiple cemeteries, concerning prices and services.  There may be significant differences in prices between cemeteries in the same county.

To find out if a cemetery or funeral home has been disciplined in the State of Florida, you can call the Funeral and Cemetery Division at 800-323-2627.

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