Couple stunned after relative's grave disturbed in mix-up at Port Mayaca Cemetery

City of Pahokee investigating the issue
Posted at 3:00 PM, Dec 28, 2016

For families who have lost loved ones, the holidays are a special time to pay their respects.

That's what Jake and Janis Stevens of Okeechobee tried to do this week when they visited a relative’s grave. But what they saw brought them to tears.

"It's very heartbreaking. We consider this sacred ground," said Janis Stevens.

Jake's mother, Rosa Stevens, died in fall 2015 after a fight with leukemia. He says they were very close and he comes by to visit every month.

"Have our little talks. And get things off your heart," said Jake.

But their most recent visit left them disgusted and heartbroken.

Janis came to visit the grave site of her mother-in-law at Port Mayaca Cemetery in western Martin County on Tuesday. She that it was dug up, covered with three sheets of plywood and lined with construction cones.

"My worst fears came true. I mean, there was a hole there. I could see my mom's vault sitting there with dirt on top of it. And it just really broke my heart," said Jake.

The site behind his mother's grave was dug for another funeral, but Jake and Janis found out there had been a mixup.

"I got a lot of different stories but the bottom line is they had opened the wrong grave. And apparently it's been like this since Dec. 16th," said Janis.

We tried asking the grounds crew about what happened but they drove off in their bulldozers when we walked up.

"They tried to blame it on the funeral homes," Jake said of his first conversation with the grounds workers.

Jake said he was told that Okeechobee-based funeral home, Bass Buxton, made the call to dig at the site but the funeral home denies it We spoke to the funeral home by phone and they said they did not fill out a form or authorize a dig. The funeral home's management says they plan to contact the city to follow through on the investigation.

The nearby city of Pahokee manages the cemetery. City manager Chandler Williamson said they have apologized to the family are still investigating what happened.

"It's just one of those incidents that occurred that we were unprepared for as far as getting the wrong information. So we're looking into that to see how that could have possibly happened," he said.

Williamson said they did receive a call from a funeral home to conduct the dig, but there was some oversight that lead to a miscommunication. That exact miscommunication, he says, is still being determined.

"We understand that can be very disheartening to see that. And so we're working very hard to ensure that this is a good operation at this cemetery and that management has good competency in what they're doing out there."

The city immediately filled the grave back up with dirt on Wednesday morning after being notified by the Stevens family. Williamson said they also plan to cover the grave with fresh grass for the family.

Either way, Jake Stevens wants to make sure this doesn't happen again.

"It's terrible. How could they make such a mistake and dig the wrong hole?" he said.

This isn't the first issue the family has had with the cemetery.

A few months ago, WPTV reported on crews throwing out grave site memorabilia without warning.

The city says there has been a change in management of the cemetery lately, so these issues are just a part of those changes.