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Cemetery sued for overcrowded conditions

September 14, 2009 12:01:47 AM PDT
Families have joined a class-action lawsuit against Eden Memorial Park in Mission Hills.There are troubling allegations against a local cemetery and how it treats people buried there. Several families have now joined a class-action lawsuit. The lawsuit targets Eden Memorial Park in Mission Hills, one of the largest cemeteries in the Los Angeles area. More families may join in the legal fight.

The cemetery is alleged to have intentionally damaged existing vaults and then move the remains so they were able to squeeze more burial plots, and get more profits.

According to attorneys, some remains were "dumped like trash." In a class-action lawsuit, one of the attorneys says it's simply a case of profits over people, and they alleged that this has been going on for at least 10 years.

"My parents are buried literally right off of this cul-de-sac," says Robert Scott. Scott says he buried his father and mother at Eden Memorial Park, hoping they would be in peace. Scott doesn't know if their graves are affected but he is angry just thinking about it.

"My parents are both Holocaust survivors, so the idea of human bones, remains, being dumped like trash, is beyond comprehension," said Scott.

The lawsuit claims that the cemetery has added so many new graves they are building them too close to each other -- so close, in fact, they say existing vaults would tear open and bones would spill out.

"Once this occurred, the groundskeepers and others at Eden Memorial Park cemetery were instructed to remove this debris, and to remove these bones, and to either dump them in another location of the cemetery, or to throw them in a Dumpster," said attorney Michael Avenatti.

Avenatti says the remains were often dumped in the northeast corner of the cemetery, and new plots were built on top of those remains. He says not only was it intentional, Eden Park tried to keep it quiet.

"The company repeatedly told the employees that they would lose their job if they brought this to light," said Avenatti.

Attorneys say it happened before at a cemetery in West Palm Beach, Florida, called Menorah Gardens. It's owned by the same company that owns Eden Memorial Park. They claim bodies were thrown into a swamp behind the cemetery.

In that case, the company, Service Corporation International (SCI), agreed to a $100-million settlement.

SCI released a statement Monday: "While very salacious, these allegations are just that -- allegations. ... We regret that this situation is being sensationalized and we are very sorry the families involved are going through this. Eden Memorial conducts extensive training with its employees and we support that with strict policies and procedures."

But that still leaves doubt for Sharon Olson. She says her mother is buried at Eden Memorial Park. Her father, who is still alive, wanted to be buried next to her.

"It's hideous, and I don't want my mom to be there," said Olson. "I called my brother and I said, 'Just the whole idea, even if nothing happened -- but how do we know?"

The owners of Eden Memorial Park say they welcome family members who are concerned to come to the cemetery to talk, but they say they will not talk to the media on camera -- they do not want to fight this case in the media. They say that they're ready to fight these allegations in court.

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