Reporting Pam Zekman
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HOMEWOOD, Ill. (CBS) — Filled caskets piled high in a chapel have sparked yet another controversy for a south suburban cemetery.
The Cook County sheriff’s office was at the site Saturday, overseeing a round of belated burials. As CBS 2′s Pam Zekman reports, it’s all because a man — outraged by what happened to his friend — called police.
“I couldn’t leave it alone,” Dwayne Cook says. “Justice has to be done. This just is not right.”
His problem with Homewood Memorial Gardens cemetery began when he went to visit the grave of a friend who was supposed to be buried there last week. He asked cemetery staff to show him the grave.
“They said there’s the grave. There’s your flowers,” Cook recalled. “We put them on the grave as you asked.”
But something was wrong.
“It was not a freshly dug grave,” Cook observed.
So he checked inside the chapel at Homewood, where the funeral service was held, and found his friend’s casket.
“I opened it up and my God, there he was. The room was full of caskets,” Cook said.
Eleven of them — all Public Aid recipients awaiting burial for as long as eight days. Saturday, the burials were performed under the direction of the sheriff’s staff.
“For us, it was a problem because the families were never notified that this occurred,” Cook County Sheriff’s Detective Jason Moran.
The cemetery owner told the sheriff’s office the problem was result of a backhoe operator who was fired or quit. A replacement had not been found to help handle all the burials.
“It’s a management issue,” Moran said.
Last year, authorities had to deal with Homewood’s practice of stacking bodies of indigents in large graves that had to be dug up, identified and properly reburied.
The cemetery owner is headquartered in Pennsylvania. But the owner’s son, Thomas Flynn Jr., says Homewood Memorial has qualified managers and his father is on site at least once a month.
Reached by telephone, Thomas Flynn Sr. said that since the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office began dealing with its backlog of bodies, the cemetery has received lots of bodies that it had to bury last week under its contract with the county.
Other burials just got pushed back, Flynn said, adding, “We’re sorry about what happened.”
As for Dwayne Cook, he was glad to be able to see his friend buried Saturday.
“It’s for the love of a friend,” Cook said. “That’s what this was about.”
A spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation said the agency will investigate what happened at Homewood.