Cemetery officials confronted with a coffin too big for its grave stashed a woman’s body for two days in a storage shed where it became infested with ants, horrified relatives said.
The family of Ivy Hamilton made the discovery Monday when they arrived for her burial at Lincoln Memorial Park in Carson.
Hamilton, a Los Angeles resident who died of a heart attack at the age of 47, was to have been buried Saturday. But after cemetery officials realized that they had not made the grave large enough to hold the extra-wide casket, the coffin containing her body was stored in the shed Saturday night and all day Sunday.
When the coffin was taken out of the shed Monday to be buried in the widened grave, the family saw that ants had crawled into the casket. “The grief turned into fury,” said Andrea Hancock, one of Hamilton’s in-laws. “It was a total mess.”
The extra-large casket was needed because Hamilton weighed 270 pounds, Hancock said.
Lincoln Memorial Park Manager Michael Mitchell acknowledged that the cemetery had been told to expect an extra-large casket but had failed to widen the grave. However, he said some of the blame should be shared by the funeral home that arranged the services, but refused to store the body while the grave was widened.
Mitchell said the cemetery had no choice but to put the coffin into a storage shed. “We were kind of stuck,” he said. “It was a very unusual situation.”
He said cemetery officials are considering making some restitution to the family.
Officials at South Los Angeles Mortuary, which arranged the services, referred inquiries to the funeral home’s director, who did not return phone calls seeking comment.
Ronald Kennedy, Hamilton’s son, said the family is still in shock over the incident and is considering legal action. “I was very startled,” he said.
After Hamilton’s funeral services Saturday, cemetery officials told the family that it would take more than two hours to widen the grave, Kennedy said. They also said they needed an extra-wide grave liner, which could not be obtained until Monday, he added.
At first, cemetery officials tried to store Hamilton’s casket in a mausoleum but found that it would not fit there, Kennedy said. Then cemetery officials told the family that the casket would be stored in a shed, he said.
State regulators said there is no law against storing a body in a shed. But they said they will examine whether the cemetery violated any codes of professional conduct.
“I want to look into it,” John Gill, executive officer of the state Cemetery Board, said Tuesday. If the cemetery violated any codes, the board could revoke its license or temporarily suspend it from doing business, he said.
Kennedy said he was reluctant at first to allow his mother’s casket to be stored in the shed. But he said he was convinced by cemetery officials that there was no alternative.
“I saw them put her in there and from then on I didn’t feel good about it at all,” he said. “I felt bad, not only for her, but for me and the rest of the family.”
Hancock, Kennedy’s sister-in-law, said she was outraged. “I was screaming and yelling about it,” she said.
When Kennedy and other family members returned Monday for the burial, they were startled to find that ants had entered the casket, he said.
“That is enough to drive anybody crazy,” said Hancock, who attended the funeral but not the burial. “You would never forget something like that.”
Before the burial, Mitchell said, the cemetery hired another funeral home to remove the ants from the coffin at no cost to the family.
Jim Allen, executive officer of the state Board of Funeral Directors and Embalmers, said he believes the original funeral home was not responsible for storing the body after it had been delivered to the cemetery. “It doesn’t sound to me like the funeral home did anything improper that would give us any concern or cause for action,” he said.
While Allen said details of this case are unusual, there have been many instances in which graves are not ready when caskets arrive. In those cases, he said, the coffins are usually stored in a mausoleum.