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$150,000 sought from Windsor cemetery for burial mixup

Martina Alvarez and her son Bulmaro Ramirez cry on Jan. 31after finding Shiloh Cemetery officials moving the body of Martina's son Enrique Ramirez Alvarez, who was killed when he fell from a pickup on Hwy 101 in Santa Rosa on Dec. 22, 2010. The cemetery sold the family the plot, but now claim the plot was already sold for the living wife of a man buried next to the one containing Alvarez.

JOHN BURGESS / The Press Democrat
Published: Thursday, June 30, 2011 at 11:32 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, June 30, 2011 at 11:32 a.m.

The family of a Windsor man buried in the wrong grave has filed three claims totaling $150,000 against the Shiloh cemetery district.

Enrique Ramirez Alvarez, 21, died Dec. 22 after falling from the back of a pickup on Highway 101. He was laid to rest a week later in a plot at the Windsor cemetery that was blessed by a priest in accordance with the family's religious practices, said the claims filed by attorney Andy Martinez.

But sometime in early January the family was informed by cemetery manager Debbie Wallace that Alvarez was mistakenly buried in a grave that belonged to another family and would be moved, according to the claims for damages.

The family objected to the relocation and sought legal advice. During a Jan. 31 visit to the cemetery, mother Martina Alvarez, another son and her brother discovered cemetery workers in the midst of digging up the grave with a backhoe.

Upon seeing the exposed coffin of her dead son, Alvarez screamed, cried, fell to the ground and fainted, according to the claims.

The workers stopped and Wallace called the police, who took no action, the claims said.

“Ms. Alvarez suffers from the lasting effects of the emotionally disturbing event she witnessed,” Martinez wrote in the claims. “Ms. Alvarez feels humiliated, she frequently cries, feels overwhelming sadness, she has trouble sleeping and she experiences pain in her chest.”

The claims were filed Monday at the office of the county Board of Supervisors. They assert a $100,000 loss for the mother and $25,000 losses each for a brother, Bulmaro Alvarez, and an uncle, Alejandro Alvarez.

Martinez said if the claims are rejected he will sue the cemetery in civil court.

The cemetery's lawyer, Bill Arnone, said there was no question an error was made in Alvarez's burial. However, he said the law allows cemeteries to relocate remains without permission of relatives.

In this case, he said, the cemetery made every effort to contact the family through its lawyer before work began. But he said the cemetery was “stonewalled” by Martinez.

“We believe this was orchestrated for the purposes of trying to make a claim,” Arnone said.

An autopsy concluded Alvarez died of a broken neck. His body was found in the center lane near the Mendocino Avenue off ramp in Santa Rosa.

In March, the driver of the pickup was sentenced to six years in prison. Rubi Ann Martinez, 33 of Santa Rosa, entered a plea bargain to a single count of vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated. Investigators said she knew Alvarez had fallen from the truck and tried to conceal it.

Martinez said the family was “still smarting” from the burial and the sentence, which they viewed as too light. He said having police called on them exacerbated the incident.

“The whole thing just left a bad taste in their mouths,” Martinez said.

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