Jun 13, 2011 9:33 AM by Lauren Wilson & AP
LAKE CHARLES, La. (AP) - Calcasieu Parish officials say graves are falling apart in a cemetery owned by Lake Charles, and some are exposing remains.
More than 70 of the nearly 300 graves in City Cemetery need immediate attention, said Zeb Johnson, chief investigator for the Calcasieu Parish Coroner's Office.
"We will triage the graves, starting first with the highly exposed remains," Johnson said. "We want to rebury and treat the remains with dignity."
He said it will take up to eight months to repair the worst, and 18 months for the whole project.
All city cemeteries were closed in 1987 by ordinance and the Department of Public Works is responsible for maintaining them. Mister Edwards, the city's public works director, said this is the first report he has received of exposed remains.
"The city will provide the labor and honor our responsibility to clean it up," he said.
Johnson, assistant investigator Charlie Hunter and Andy Hankins, chief financial officer for Johnson Funeral Home, inspected the cemetery last week.
Johnson says the funeral home, coroner's office and Department of Public Works cannot start until the city gets a court order to make the grave sites safe.
After the bones are reburied, workers will repair and remove the unsightly tombs. Since many of the graves are unmarked, Johnson said, the crews will need to develop a system to identify them.
Johnson said using labor from the city will reduce costs. Johnson Funeral Home is also offering assistance in repairs, and the Coroner's Office plans to use surplus supplies.
"Standard vaults cost $400 wholesale, plus labor," Johnson said. "A contractor could finish the work faster, but at a much greater cost."
In 1994, state Rep. A.B. Franklin, then a city councilman, started a project named "Operation Rest in Peace" to repair the grave sites and keep the cemetery from being an eyesore. He said project members were able to maintain the lawn and paint a few tombs, but could not get enough volunteers to repair the graves.