A decree by the state Board of Funeral Directors and Embalmers released earlier this month requires Sunset Memorial Gardens to submit to random quarterly inspections for two years. The cemetery will pay a fee of $250 for each inspection.
According to the consent decree, the owners of the cemetery failed to maintain the cemetery and mausoleum, “so as to reflect respect for the memory of the dead in keeping with the reasonable sensibilities of survivors (body fluids were visible on the mausoleum floor, unbearable odors existed inside the mausoleum and dramatic deterioration of the cemetery grounds including inattention and poor management).”
Joy Andies said it is fine to keep tabs on the cemetery for two years, “but what are they asking him to do?”
She recently meet with cemetery owner the Lawrence Group, Dallas, Ga., in the offices of attorney James Logan.
“The meeting was a waste of time because he never admitted to anything wrong,” she said. “He said the leak came from the roof, but rainwater doesn’t smell like decomposing bodies.”
She said Dale Lawrence presented a list of corrective actions and said he intends to replace the roof, the stucco on the outside of the building and the ventilation system.
“He showed us a list, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to do it,” Andies said.
Logan said he is inclined to reach an agreement with the cemetery outside of court.
However, the district attorney’s office announced earlier in March it is seeking petitioners before taking legal action against the parent company of Sunset Memorial Gardens and Mausoleum at 7180 North Lee Highway, and Hilcrest Memorial Gardens at 1700 South Ocoee St.
Assistant District Attorney Stephen Hatchett said the consent decree issued by the state does not prohibit him from filing suit in Chancery Court.
According to Tennessee Code, Hatchett can take action in Chancery Court on the petition of 5 percent of, or 10 lot owners and next of kin of lot owners, whichever is fewer. The petition is available by calling the district attorney’s office at 423-472-2179.
The Lawrence Group was placed under a consent decree in September 2012 when the Lawrence Group was assessed the largest ever civil penalty issued by the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance Burial Services program.
Over a two-year period in 2008 and 2009, the company made at least 20 withdrawals totaling $1.77 million from the Sunset and Hilcrest cemetery perpetual trust funds. The Lawrence Group agreed to pay $267,450 from four final orders from the state. Of that amount, $114,000 was paid directly to the improvement care funds, and $151,000 was a civil penalty paid to the department. The Lawrence Group also repaid the two trusts.