Unclaimed cremains will see dirt

Published 6:23 am Friday, October 20, 2023

The ongoing saga of just what to do with 19 cremated remains stashed in the county mayor’s office vault has been solved. The Claiborne Commission voted unanimously on Oct. 16 to secure the unclaimed cremains in a section of county-owned property that also houses the emergency helipad. The property is located behind the Claiborne County Courthouse in Tazewell.

The county had initially planned to utilize the Tazewell Methodist Church to bury the cremains, some of which had languished inside the vault for nearly two decades. The plan hit a snag when it was discovered that, according to state records, the cemetery supported 50 gravesites but only 23 sites could be located upon physical examination.

Another problem became clear when it was learned that the cemetery has no owner of record. That meant, descendants of those buried there could claim ownership.

Rather than fight these potential battles, the commission decided to look elsewhere for a burial site.

Commissioner David Mundy, who sponsored the updated resolution, suggested making room for the cremains in the back corner of the helipad property behind the old Hurst home.

“(It) would be an ideal place to make a plot about 25’x25’ to get rid of whatever we have (of the cremains),” said Mundy.

County Mayor Joe Brooks said he would be handling notifications to the families.

“We’ve got all the contact information from everybody that’s down (inside the vault) there and death certificates,” said Brooks.

Mundy asked about those who had made partial payments to reimburse the county for cremation and transport costs.

Brooks explained his reasoning for setting up payments. He said he had hoped to discourage any future storage inside the office vault. Brooks said a payment plan had been established for about half of the 19 cremated remains.

“As long as they paid a quarter of what that cost was, up front, we allowed them to make payments. I think there’s only two people who came back to make a second payment,” said Brooks.

Mundy asked again about refunding the money.

“I’m fine, if you all are fine with it. If somebody wants to come get them, let’s just give them,” said Brooks.

As for any refund, Brooks said no.

“I say write off the rest of the debt and just let them have them if they want them. But, that was the agreement.”

While discussing the prime location for the interment, Brooks suggested marking off a section that would be easily accessible for those who might want to visit their loved one’s gravesite.

“We’re also going to have to mark these as well with some type of designation as either name or death date, whatever the case may be,” said Brooks.

He suggested a better placement would be on the north side of the property.

The commissioners took a few moments to discuss how far apart each set of cremains should be buried.

“I talked to Donnie Noe, who has managed the Fairview Cemetery for umpteen years,” said audience member Wayne Lee. “He says there is no industry standard about how far apart cremains should be set. He digs a hole three feet deep with a set of posthole diggers, puts the box down in there and they put a little plate to mark who is there – just a small one flush with the ground and you can mow over it.”

Lee suggested using the helipad property entrance located on Payne Street for easy access to the cemetery.

The Buildings, Grounds & Personnel Committee will be drafting a cemetery policy. Meanwhile, County Attorney James Estep III will be acquiring permission from the authorities to move forward with the burials.