JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Every hearse that rolls into a cemetery carries more than a deceased person. It is loaded with emotions and memories that surviving relatives will always remember.
On Christmas Eve, Carla Johnson went to Restlawn Memorial Park to visit her grandmother and uncle's graves, and said what she saw was disappointing. The grave marker was broken in the middle and the area looked like a sand box.
"No grass, completely sand, half of the stone was buried in sand. We had to dig and to make sure we were in the right place," she said.
Johnson has now filed complaints with the Florida Funeral Board and the Attorney General's Office about the problems at Restlawn, which in 2007 was taken over by the Southside Christian Charities, a nonprofit agency.
There were bright spots in the 30-acre memorial park, but Johnson said where her family is buried needs better attention.
"I'd like to see our stone replaced and the cemeteries be held responsible to keep that area in good order," she said.
Pastor Harold Rollinson, chairman of Southside, said since the takeover, the group has made significant improvements. "The cemetery is not responsible for the broken grave marker," said Rollinson.
"We get complaints and we try to resolve them; however, care and maintenance does not cover grave markers," he added.
But state regulators said it is not that clear cut.
Liability for a broken marker depends on how the marker was broken, said Alexis Lambert, a spokeswoman for the Florida board of Funeral and Cemetery.
She also said there's an ongoing investigation into Restlawn Memorial Park, but would not elaborate on the focus of the investigation.
"Even though it has been a long time since they both passed away, it hurts to know that things like that can happen in cemeteries," said Johnson.
"Their remains are there and that's what's important to me, that should be kept up."
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