JACKSON, Tenn. — New documents obtained by WREG show a Tennessee cemetery operator waited five months to act on a broken maintenance item that led to body leakage.
According to a state order, an employee at the Jackson Highland Memorial Gardens cemetery let the general manager know about a broken air conditioner as early as “March or April of 2021.”
But according to the order, the manager took “no action.” Soon, “an odor appeared and became stronger” and then the crypts started “leaking body fluids.”
Christopher Bryant was visiting family members at Highland Memorial last summer. He showed us a picture he took on June 20 at the mausoleum when he first noticed leaking fluids.
“Mainly black but it looked like it had a tint of red in it too. I didn’t look at it that long cause it bothered me,” Bryant said.
He said he reported it to cemetery management, who told him they’d do something about it. But the mausoleum continued to be open the rest of the summer without any change.
Harry Boosey visited in September and found the situation had gotten even worse.
“I’ve never smelled death before, but that’s what it smelled like to me. It smelled terrible. The worst thing I’ve ever smelled,” he said.
Boosey called friends and found out others had also been trying to get in touch with the cemetery’s owner, Pennsylvania-based company StoneMor Inc.
Boosey tried, too; he went to see the manager at the local office, who told him StoneMor knew about the broken A.C. but hadn’t fixed it.
“She had somebody on the phone and let me talk to him. [He was] over this area for StoneMor. He was coming to town and was going to call me when he got here. I haven’t heard from him yet,” Boosey said.
Then he got his neighbor, state Sen. Ed Jackson (R- Madison), involved. The state lawmaker called up the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance and finally got some action.
Less than a week later, the state closed Highland Memorial’s mausoleum and took away their permit to do new business until they cleaned up the mausoleum.
“Only after the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance closed them did they really take it seriously,” Boosey said.
A StoneMor representative told the Problem Solvers the timing was a “coincidence,” saying “the situation was being handled long before the state was involved” and that they had a new A.C. unit ordered.
But in all, state paperwork showed they kept the mausoleum open for at least five months while the air malfunctioned and bodies leaked out of caskets.
“You wonder where it happened, where is it. Was it close to my wife?” Boosey said.
“They should’ve took care of it right then and there but they didn’t. They neglected it,” Bryant said.
For his part, Bryant said he wished he reported the issue to the state back in June when he first noticed it.
He hoped his delay would be a future warning for others.
The facility is now back open. State officials say they’ve fixed the issue. They fined StoneMor $37,000 for the incident.