ATLANTIC BEACH, Fla. – State investigators have promised to help a grieving family that was unable to bury a loved one Friday afternoon at an Atlantic Beach cemetery.
That cemetery has been the subject of a months-long investigation by the News4Jax I-TEAM.
Carol Lloyd's family celebrated her life Friday morning with a funeral service at a local church, but when her loved ones tried to lay her to rest at Beaches Memorial Park, no one was at the cemetery.
“There are no graves marked. There's nothing done. We have no idea where the plot is,” Lloyd's granddaughter, Chelsey Durden, said.
When the cemetery’s owners didn’t answer the phone, Lloyd's family called the I-TEAM for help.
News4Jax has received more than 60 complaints about Beaches Memorial Park, and Lloyd's story is similar to others the I-TEAM has told since we started investigating the cemetery and funeral home in April.
The I-TEAM contacted the state to alert investigators to the situation and find out what action they would take. They responded quickly, saying the facility “displayed a complete lack of preparation” that “inflicted added grief to a family already going through the toughest time of their lives.”
The state said it told the cemetery to “exhaust any and every option” to complete its commitment to Lloyd's family.
“We take this matter very seriously and are actively working with all parties to explore all options to resolve this matter on behalf of the consumer,” state officials said in a statement.
Family mourns 'gypsy soul'
Lloyd, 71, died last week after a hard-fought battle with cancer.
“She was a wonderful woman, a wonderful mother,” Lloyd's son, Doug Alger, said.
“She was a beautiful woman. She loved life. She was a Gypsy soul,” Durden said.
Lloyd and her husband, who is still living, paid $1,895 in 2005 for two burial plots at Beaches Memorial Park.
But when Lloyd's casket and hearse got to the cemetery Friday, nobody else was there, and the grave for the burial service was nowhere to be found.
“Devastation. Fury. It's outrageous what you have to go through when you want to just lay your loved ones to rest,” Durden said.
The I-TEAM waited for 30 minutes with Lloyd’s family, but no one from the cemetery came.
“This is just beyond words, beyond embarrassment,” Alger said. “I don't know what to say. It is just so wrong.”
Owners blamed for 'disgrace'
Police came by to document what happened, as Lloyd’s relatives were left with no choice but to have her body returned to the Eternity Funeral Home while they figure out what to do next.
“(There's) nowhere to put her except to take her back in our care,” said Michelle Ohmart, director of Eternity Funeral Home, which conducted Lloyd's funeral services Friday at a local church.
Ohmart's funeral home is unrelated to Beaches Memorial Park and First Coast Funeral Home.
She said the cemetery’s owners are to blame for what Lloyd's family endured Friday.
“It is a disgrace to this family,” Ohmart said.
She said when she called the owner of Beaches Memorial Park, Amanda Rayan said the burial equipment was broken, and then Rayan hung up on her.
“This has never happened before, and I have been a funeral director for 11 years,” Ohmart said. “It's never happened before, and I pray to God it never happens to another family again.”
Family out of options
The I-TEAM attempted to contact Beaches Memorial Park to get their side of the story, but no one answered the door or the phone at the cemetery’s office.
“They need to be held accountable,” Alger said. “She does not deserve this. Nobody deserves this.”
The family is filing a complaint against Beaches Memorial with the state of Florida. Durden and Alger said they’re out of options, because they don’t have the money to bury Lloyd anywhere else.
“It hurts so bad,” Durden said. “I know that she is in the back of that car right now. We can't even put her in the ground, can't even lay her to rest.”
More than four hours after the family left, a backhoe with two workers drove through the cemetery's front gate. The workers could be seen later digging what appeared to be a grave inside the cemetery.
Family's story sounds familiar
Lloyd's story is similar to ones the I-TEAM has told before about grieving families suffering further by delays and other issues at Beaches Memorial.
We were there just last week when the family of Martha Brown had to wait nearly three hours for the wrong vault to be removed from her grave site, so that the correct one could be put in place.
The burial equipment was working then.
Lloyd’s family also wasn’t the first to show up and find that a grave had not been dug.
On April 23, the family of Johnnie Mae Jones showed up to find that work had not yet begun on her grave.
They were told the delay was due to wet ground, but the ground was dry. The grave was dug while the family watched, and she was laid to rest.
The cemetery’s license to sell contracts for future burials has now been suspended by the state. It expired Friday and was not renewed by the owners.
If anyone has a complaint about Beaches Memorial Park or its sister company, First Coast Funeral Home, they can contact the I-TEAM at email@example.com or 904-479-NEWS.
Anyone who would like to file a complaint or has questions can visit the state’s Division of Funeral, Cemetery and Consumer Services website or call the division at 850-413-3039, or Toll Free in Florida at 800-323-2627.