Pat Lipe wishes she could put flowers in the vase at her husband’s grave at Hawkins County Memorial Gardens, but she says lately it is too much of a risk. For now, she stores the bronze vase upside down.
“Look at these that are knocked over,” Lipe said of the other vases nearby. “You can’t even straighten them up.”
Lipe snapped pictures just last week that show poor landscaping along some graves, removed flowers and markers at others and several crooked vases.
Gerald Ward’s also taken notice.
“I don’t like it,” Ward said. “I don’t like it one bit. The vases are getting damaged and these stones are getting damaged.”
While the former owner of Hawkins County Memorial Gardens sits inside a jail cell awaiting trial, the state has control of the cemetery. Vickie Ringley faces charges of theft over $60,000, money laundering and more. Prosecutors tell us her trial is set for October 13th.
A spokesperson for the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance says neither the agency nor the receiver has received any complaints about the vases.
“When the state took oversight of the cemetery last year, there were a number of damaged and missing vases at the cemetery,” Communications Director Kevin Walters said. “To date, our receiver has not been made aware of any …further damages to the vases on the grounds of the cemetery. Our crews only mow the cemetery grounds and do not trim the grounds. The receiver has only received one phone call (anonymously) complaining about the mowing but he did return the call and explained to the caller about the mowing, etc. Aside from our contractor there are a number of families who mow and trim their own area.”
The contractor the state’s paying $600 a mow to mow the cemetery says its crews have not damaged a thing. In fact, a spokesperson for Long Cemetery Maintenance said someone from the state has gone behind crews both times they’ve mowed to make sure all work is done to the state’s standards.
There is a history of vandalism at the cemetery. In addition, in the past someone’s taken bronze vases from some of the gravesites before. However, Hawkins County Sheriff Ronnie Lawson says his office hasn’t taken a theft report since May.
The state previously said it hoped to put the cemetery up for sale this summer. Walters says that sale remains an option.
“The receiver is still in the process of resolving questions about grave spaces at the cemetery,” Walters said. “Once this process has concluded, we can ascertain the fair market value of the cemetery. Any sale would first have to be submitted to the court for approval.”
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