By Tara Molina

GARY, Ind. (CBS) — Graves were left desecrated and a Gary cemetery was left underwater – and we’re told the storms Tuesday night are not to blame.

Families said their loved ones’ graves have been flooded for weeks, and with no answers about a fix, they turned to CBS 2. Tara Molina on Wednesday night investigated what’s going on and who’s going to fix it.

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The flooding at Ridgelawn Cemetery is easily noticeable, and there’s more than one place that’s inundated. The water is so high that some graves are underwater, and in other places, we’re told you can’t even see the headstones.

Indeed, it looks like a lake rather than a final resting place. Freda Black’s mother’s grave is one of several that is underwater.

“There are stones that are totally submerged,” Black said. “My mother’s grave is being desecrated.”

It’s a distressing sight for anyone.

“There’s a whole veterans’ area that’s underwater,” she said.

But for Black herself, and her memory of her own mother?
“She would never go near the water because she was deathly afraid of it,” she said.

Black said she has been waiting on an answer – a fix – since Memorial Day, when she first showed up to the cemetery to pay her respects.

But she said she is still just getting the runaround – no straight answer from the cemetery or the county. So we started asking questions.

“We had to go out and buy more pumps,” said Ridgelawn Cemetery owner Robert Williams Jr. “I’ve got an uncle buried here in the water and my great grandfather is too, so I feel bad about the whole situation.”

And Williams said he has been waiting for answers too.

“We’re at a standstill here unless they fix them pipes,” he said.

Williams said the problem is a drainage line. He said the cemetery’s own drains are clear, but there is an issue off the property – an issue that he has taken up with the county just Wednesday.

“They’ll find out exactly where it’s plugged at and if they have to put in new lines, they will,” he said.

Molina looked into that. The Lake County, Indiana surveyor confirmed it is investigating the issue…telling me he is in the process of scheduling an inspection to determine where the issue is. Surveyor Bill Emerson Jr. wrote:

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“Ridgelawn informed us that they reached out to the property owners where the alleged obstruction exists and were unable to fix the problem themselves. I.C. 36-9-27.4-1 et seq provides a procedure where someone can petition the Drainage Board to address alleged obstructions in private mutual drains when the property owners cannot fix the issue themselves. A mutual drain is a drain that crosses more than one property.

 

“Ridgelawn sent the petition to our office today and I have contacted a contractor to schedule an inspection to determine whether there is an obstruction and where that obstruction is located.

 

“I will promptly advise the Drainage Board as to whether there is an obstruction, if it is intentional and what properties are benefited by the drain.

 

“The Drainage Board will set a hearing on the matter, then if the Drainage Board finds it is unintentional they will 1) give the petitioner or respondents the right to fix the drain themselves, 2) order the Surveyor to fix it and apportion costs to the benefited property owners, or 3) order the drain to be fixed by a combination of the county surveyor and property owners.

 

“If the Drainage Board finds there is an intentional obstruction, the Drainage Board will order respondents to remove the obstruction at their own expense, or direct the county surveyor to remove the obstruction at the expense of the respondents.”

 

I hope this helps. Please let me know if you have any questions.

Black’s hope is that they move quickly.

“How do I get this fixed?” she said. “I don’t want my mother to be in this circumstance.”

Meanwhile, Highland, Indiana attorney Michael A. Campbell said he is pursuing legal action on behalf of another family whose loved one’s gravesite has been flooded.

“The mass flooding that occurred at Ridgelawn Cemetery is entirely unacceptable and is indicative of a bigger drainage problem,” Campbell said in a statement. “I have been retained by one family whose loved ones are buried at Ridgelawn and have also been contacted by five other families. At this time we are exploring all possible legal remedies to ensure that this tragedy never happens again.”

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When there is more information from Lake County on exactly how this is being addressed, and when, we will update this story.

Tara Molina