Grandview owner addresses issues
Class action lawsuit filed, grave markers stolen

Cindy DiFazio, Contributing Writer

Proud family names once inscribed on bronze plaques to mark the graves of loved ones lost are now affixed to lawsuits. A class action lawsuit filed by family members against Grandview Memorial Gardens Cemetery in Madison is an attempt to retrieve misappropriated funds along with the credibility and dignity the Madison facility once had.

Along those lines, at the Sunday, August 19 meeting of approximately 350 people held at the Venture Out Business Center in Madison, Keith Mefford, present Grandview owner, attempted to address the many problems facing those with family already interred at Grandview as well as folks who have purchased plots and services not yet used.

Mefford began by giving an overview of subjects he would touch on. They ran the gamut from the current status of the cemetery and lawsuits to recent attempts to maintain the grounds and end the ruthless thefts of bronze grave markers that cost the families more than $1,000 apiece.

Mefford semi-jokingly referred to himself as the “alleged owner of Grandview Memorial,” a reference to how he is named in the lawsuit. He went on to give a timeline of events since his purchase of Grandview in July, 2005. That is when he bought the property on contract from Madison Funeral Services, Inc. Mefford maintains that only four months after his purchase he began to realize that things were not as he had anticipated. He says that finances had been mishandled and improper burials had taken place.

Mefford reports that he attempted to work with the previous owner, Madison funeral director James Holt, for months only to find out someone else, allegedly Larry Fox, had bought Madison Funeral Services. “I don’t know who the owner is,” Mefford told the crowd. “Still,” he went on to say, “We felt like we had the attorney general and the prosecutor to help us out.” Reportedly, neither agency has been helpful. The bottom line is, Mefford stated, “Not a lot has changed.”

Then Mefford offered information about some very specific aspects of Grandview’s problems as well as some possible solutions.

Mefford reported that the Jefferson County clerk’s office has recently released trust monies to Grandview. The bad news is that there is only $90,000 in that fund. But, Mefford said, “Hopefully, we can deliver services again.”

He also noted that people who made purchases from Grandview between February, 2001 and July, 2005 can request reimbursement. Mefford said that the owner during that time frame, James Holt, has taken the stance that he will pay back that money.

For those who prepaid only to find out they did not get what they paid for, Mefford suggested they contact the consumer protection fund responsible for reimbursing them for the difference in what they paid for and what they got. He warned that the reimbursements are not easy to obtain, but encouraged folks to keep trying. Funeral directors have the necessary paperwork to file for reimbursements.

Several people had questions regarding insurance coverage at the cemetery. Mefford said that although Grandview is covered by insurance, the insurance company doesn’t know who Madison Funeral Services, Inc. is, which is complicating the claims process. As to receiving any help from the insurance company with pending lawsuits, Mefford told the assemblage, “They (the insurance company) can come up with some real creative verbiage so that they don’t have to defend you in these lawsuits. We’re fighting that battle every day.”

Adding to the problem, 100 complete files were lost in the arson fire earlier this year. Mefford noted that the fire claim probably will not be paid. He also said that whoever set that fire also took books showing where family plots are located making it very difficult to know where new burials are to be. He told participants, “I hope you’ve kept your paperwork.”

In yet another cruel twist, at least 200 of the 500 bronze markers at Grandview have been stolen. Three people were taken into custody recently after selling four of the markers for the paltry sum of $74. Mefford encouraged people who have stored bronze grave markers to take them home. “I think they need to be in your possession,” he recommended.

Mefford then tackled the subject of property upkeep. He shared that he had a phone call from a fellow who was very upset about the lack of grass mowing and weed eating being accomplished at the cemetery. “It only takes about $5 to do that,” the gentleman told him. The reality is that each mowing costs about $450 and Grandview has not had any money from the Perpetual Care Fund since March, 2006 when they were paid $1,264 by the fund. “We realize that it looks horrible,” Mefford admitted, “and it breaks my heart.” He asked that interested parties join in the volunteer clean-ups being organized regularly by volunteers rather than mowing and weed eating on their own. “It looks like a checkerboard because people are coming in mowing and weed eating in patches. You can’t do that,” he told the group.

Another huge issue has been the disinterment of cyrpts thought to be the wrong caskets or leaking or both. Mefford told the crowd that the standard cost of opening/closing a grave is $1,695. That is the kind of service that requires a backhoe, several staff members and a funeral director. “It’s a lot of work requiring a lot of time,” he noted. However, he offered a couple of options for those who want to know the status of a particular plot. For $50, a test hole can be drilled 1/4" into a lawn crypt. Then a dowel rod can be inserted to check for water. This service may be requested between the months of September and April, when the water table is higher. “It would be a waste of $50 to try it right now,” Mefford explained. A traditional opening/closing of a grave normally costs $650. Grandview has lowered that cost to $500 which would allow the lid to be taken off of the crypt so the purchaser can make sure it is the casket they bought and that it is dry. A funeral director must be present for that option. Mefford also said that it is okay to not disturb the grave at all. “If you choose to leave it as it is, I understand that, too,” he assured. Mefford noted that the way to pursue any of the grave opening options is to call a funeral home and have a funeral director make the arrangements.

In conclusion, Mefford summed up by saying, “We need your help. Volunteer. Become involved. We’re going to do our best to fix things, but we’ve got a long road to travel.”