Cemetery's mistake leaves Windsor family in tears
Published: Tuesday, February 1, 2011 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, February 1, 2011 at 9:59 a.m.
Losing her oldest son during the Christmas holidays was difficult enough for Martina Alvarez. Finding out he was buried in the wrong grave made it worse.
But the misery didn't stop there for the Windsor woman.
On a trip to her son's final resting place Monday, Alvarez found cemetery workers digging up her son's coffin.
She knew her son had been mistakenly buried in the plot of a couple who wanted side-by-side gravesites but didn't think cemetery officials would move him without first telling her.
Tears rolled down her cheeks as she walked to the edge of the open grave and looked upon his exposed casket.
“It's incredible how this happened,” said Alvarez in Spanish as she clutched a yellow rose meant for her son's grave. “Nobody told us it would be happening today.”
Shiloh Cemetery District Manager Debbie Wallace, who halted a backhoe crew when the family arrived, said the remains had to be relocated, with or without the family's consent.
Wallace said her lawyer tried to contact Alvarez before removing the remains of Enrique Ramirez, 21, who died Dec. 22 when he fell out of a pickup truck on Highway 101.
But she said no one responded and the work began to have Ramirez' remains “scooted” one plot over to preserve the spot for a woman whose husband died six months ago, she said.
She offered to call a priest after talking to Alvarez and later summoned Windsor police.
“It's not up to the family,” Wallace said. “Legally we have the right to move him.”
Ramirez's uncle, Alejandro Alvarez of Windsor, said the family had been guaranteed the plot and paid $2,486 for it. He accused the cemetery of trying to sneak behind their backs while they consulted a lawyer about the situation.
By late afternoon Monday, he said, cemetery workers has relocated his nephew's casket and reburied it.
“It looks like they're just trying to hide everything,” Alejandro Alvarez said.
Ramirez, a Windsor High graduate, was riding in the open back of a pickup the night of his death. His body was discovered by a passing motorist in the center lane of Highway 101 near the Mendocino Avenue onramp, the CHP said.
An autopsy revealed a broken neck, major internal injuries and a fractured thigh. Three days later, authorities arrested Rubi Martinez, 32, of Windsor who they said was driving the pickup. She faces charges of gross vehicular manslaughter, hit and run and drunken driving. She's pleaded not guilty. Her preliminary hearing is Feb. 28.
Ramirez, the son of a farm laborer and oldest of four siblings, immigrated to Windsor from Mexico when he was 10. He attended Cali Calmecac Language Academy before graduating from high school. His family's lawyer, Andy Martinez, said he was looking into a possible wrongful death lawsuit against the pickup driver.
Martinez said the family was contacted by the cemetery about a week after the funeral and told about the mishandled remains. He was planning to confer with the family when he learned Monday the grave had been opened, he said.
“It's bad form and pretty rude,” Martinez said. “I question what the urgency was.”
But the cemetery's lawyer, Bill Arnone, said the plot belonged to someone else and the cemetery was acting legally.
He said he called Martinez numerous times including late last week to inform him the cemetery intended to make the switch in a couple of days. He didn't hear back so he went ahead, he said.
“We tried to make contact over and over again,” Arnone said. “I'm a little annoyed we find ourselves in this situation.”
Ramirez's younger brother, Bulmaro Ramirez, 20, said the cemetery should have made other arrangements for the couple. About 200 people attended the funeral Dec. 29 for his brother, whom he described as a creative person struggling with epilepsy.
“It's wrong to move him,” he said. “You can't do something like that. We already cried for Enrique there.”
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