- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 16, 2000

A Prince George's County (Md.) Circuit Court judge has told a Clinton cemetery owner he may not conduct any more burials until accusations are settled that he dug up old graves to make way for new ones.

Judge Michele Hotten issued the temporary restraining order this week after hearing a variety of complaints about Forest Hills Memorial Gardens and its owner, Alex Williams.

Mr. Williams is charged with operating a cemetery without a license and violating at least 20 of the county's business codes.

The judge ruled that Mr. Williams may not bury any more bodies until he obtains a license and responds to the county about complaints ranging from missing headstones to graves that can't be found.

Mr. Williams' attorney predicted yesterday that burials will resume soon, and that Prince George's County will lose its effort to close the 98-year-old cemetery.

"I think the whole case has been media driven," said Antoini M. Jones, attorney for Mr. Williams. "I'm quite confident the county will lose or dismiss the case."

The injunction came after cemetery neighbors and relatives of people buried there complained that human remains were found nearby, grave markers were missing and broken, graves were sunken and filled with muddy water, and it appeared new graves were placed on top of old ones.

"I'd like to know where my daughter's grave marker is," said Marlene Adamson, of the 800 block of 55th Street NE in the District, explaining that her daughter was buried in 1964 in one of 15 plots purchased by relatives.

"I know exactly where they are," Mrs. Adamson said. "Our graves where they were, there are new graves."

Deborah A. Jackson of Burtonsville buried her father, Clarence, at the cemetery in November 1998. When she returned a week later, she could not find the grave. She said Mr. Williams shuffled through papers and was unable to pinpoint it either.

"It was like dirt piles everywhere," Mrs. Jackson said, adding that her son, then 7 years old, fell into a grave "up to his kneecaps" as they walked through the cemetery.

After determining the location of her father's casket, Mrs. Jackson and companions recently stuck a probe into the ground and hit an obstruction less than 3 feet below the surface. Someone apparently was buried above her father, Mrs. Jackson said.

After relatives and neighbors complained, the county's Office of Business and Regulatory Affairs investigated. Staff members found debris throughout the cemetery, identification markers only temporarily attached at grave sites and "many areas of deep depressions over grave sites."

On Oct. 1, the staff found "a very large dirt pile at the rear of the cemetery where exposed human remains were found," said Sandra E. Peaches, director of the office.

Ms. Peaches was among more than 100 people attending a meeting Oct. 25 when a neighbor, Annie Coates, said the dirt pile was growing. Another neighbor, William Stover, said he found a human bone in his front yard. Witness Donald Knepp reported caskets were left out in the open.

Relatives and friends will meet again at 7 p.m. tomorrow at the Prince George's County 5th District Police Station in Clinton.

Mr. Williams does not have a license to operate a cemetery, Deputy County Attorney John Bielec stated in the petition for injunction, including it in a list of 10 violations.

That licensing law has been in effect only since Oct. 1, 1999, said Mr. Jones, who assured the county that Mr. Williams is "fully and completely correcting any appearance of wrongdoing on his part."

Mr. Jones accused the county of acting unfairly. It issued a cease-and-desist order on Oct. 24, giving Mr. Williams until Nov. 30 to reply and present a plan of compliance. But then, the county got the injunction before Mr. Williams could respond, Mr. Jones said.

Many complaints developed before Mr. Williams bought the cemetery five years ago, Mr. Jones said.

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