Sunset Memorial Gardens in Cleveland, Tenn., brings new entombment expert on board

Sunset Memorial Gardens in Cleveland, Tenn., brings new entombment expert on board

November 8th, 2015 by Paul Leach in Local Regional News

The central mausoleum hall at Sunset Memorial Gardens is seen in this file photo.

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

CLEVELAND, Tenn. — State officials say requirements of an Aug. 25 consent order about mausoleum conditions at Sunset Memorial Gardens remain unmet even as a second consultant has been brought in to assist the cemetery owner. The North Lee Highway cemetery's operating license is at risk of suspension.

The consent order, which was filed by the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance, states that a state inspector concluded noxious odors in the mausoleums were linked to "decomposing human remains."

The order called for cemetery owner Cecil Lawrence Inc., based in Dallas, Ga., to hire a mausoleum construction expert to provide a report on any "reasonably necessary" repairs to properly seal all crypts and prevent smells, along with a time line for completion.

The department is reviewing a preliminary report from Ensure-A-Seal, an entombment solutions company based in Pennsylvania, spokesman Kevin Walters said in an email.

"To be clear: This is not a completed plan and has not been approved by the department," Walters said. "As we review this report, Sunset Mausoleum has not been suspended at this time."

A Nov. 2 letter from Ensure-A-Seal founder and CEO David Yearsley to attorney William Colvin, who represents the cemetery owner, summarized his Oct. 30 inspection findings and recommendations.

"I did not detect any fluid leakage from any of the crypts nor any recognizable decomposition odors," said Yearsley.

Yearsley recommended the mausoleum program incorporate "an effective casket protection product for all new entombments" and that cemetery staff "continually monitor the mausoleum for any recognizable change from the existing caskets entombed in the crypts."

Over its 60 years of existence, Sunset Memorial Gardens has not used any type of casket protection, Yearsley said.

Cecil Lawrence Inc. brought Ensure-A-Seal on board after McCleskey Mausoleums of Buford, Ga., a mausoleum construction expert, withdrew from the project. Although a McCleskey consultant inspected the cemetery in early September, no remedial plan was submitted to the state.

An Oct. 22 letter from the Department of Commerce of Insurance warned Colvin that failing to submit a complete remediation plan within seven days would breach the consent order and lead to a license suspension for Sunset Memorial Gardens.

Mausoleum odors have been a problem for at least three years, and the cemetery owner has been disciplined "multiple times" for failing to properly maintain the cemetery, according to the consent order.

The 10th Judicial District Attorney's Office is pursuing action against Sunset Memorial Gardens and Hilcrest Memorial Gardens, also in Cleveland and owned by Cecil Lawrence Inc.

The DA's office alleged the company has not complied with a January 2015 consent order on the maintenance and upkeep of the cemeteries.

The state has also received 240 complaints about the two cemeteries, submitted in bulk by funeral home operator Ralph Buckner in October, Walters said.

Paul Leach is based in Cleveland. Email him at paul.leach.press@gmail.com.