LAFAYETTE, Calif. (Cristina Rendon/KTVU) - A Lafayette family is warning others about pre-purchasing plots at a cemetery after their plots were allegedly switched and a loved one was buried in the wrong spot.
Peggy Chaloner is reminded that her husband Richard is buried in the incorrect plot, every time she visits his headstone at Oakmont Memorial Park in Lafayette.
“He’s not resting in peace yet,” she said. “In January it will be in five years. He deserves to rest in peace and be where he’s supposed to be. He deserves better than this.”
Richard Chaloner was a retired Marine who served two tours in Vietnam. The devoted father of six was a family man. He was surrounded by loved ones when he died from liver cancer in 2013.
On the day Richard was laid to rest at Oakmont in 2013, Peggy said she did not know it was in a plot they had not purchased.
“They had a big piece of AstroTurf out, a tarp, and chairs… it was a really hard day for me,” she said. “I didn’t look at where they were burying him. I trusted that it was the right place.”
Receipt records show Peggy and Richard, and her brother, Robert Niven, pre-purchased several plots together in the Hillside section of Oakmont in 1999. They bought three plots side by side: one for Richard and Peggy, one for Robert and his wife, and one for another relative.
“Our original intention was to be buried together for eternity,” Niven said.
“We trusted them completely,” Chaloner added. “We were done. We were set. Everything was fine. Our kids were going to have an easier life.”
It wasn’t until after Richard’s death that Peggy realized her husband’s burial was botched.
“I didn’t notice that it was the wrong place until I went up there after he died, a bit later, to put some flowers up there and be with him, and then I noticed there was someone buried next to him, which was supposed to be my brother,” she said.
She said it led to an upsetting admission by Oakmont management.
“They said they did bury Richard in the wrong place, but my brother’s plots were where they were supposed to be, which is not true,” she said.
“Richard being misplaced was the beginning and it just kind of snowballed after that,” Niven said.
Niven claims that someone else was buried in one of his plots without his knowledge. He said it resulted in the cemetery shifting over the plots he owned.
Peggy said the plot with her husband Richard was moved four spaces away, where is separated from the family and buried between two strangers.
“Time went on, nothing happened, nothing got resolved, nothing got said, no apology,” she said.
The family is now taking legal action. Their attorney Carole Bosch said she believes the mix up can be traced back to the 90’s when Oakmont was selling plots that did not correspond to where people were being buried.
“In 2002 and 2003, they tried to reconcile what they were selling with how people were buried in the ground,” Bosch said. “At that time, they sent letters to some of the plot owners, but not all of the plot owners.”
Niven said he received one of those letters, but the Chaloners did not.
“They stressed that the location of the plots did not change, just the numbers changed,” Niven said. “I trusted the letter. The location didn’t changes so what difference did the number make?”
Bosch said it is possible that people do not know that the plots they originally purchased were moved.
KTVU went to Oakmont Memorial Park in search of answers. The mortuary manager referred us to the company’s attorney out of state.
Oakmont is owned by StoneMor Properties, based in Pennsylvania. According to their website, the company oversees more than 300 cemeteries and 100 funeral homes in the U.S. and Puerto Rico.
The following is the full statement from the company’s director of investor relations. It reads;
“The origins of this lawsuit developed prior to our ownership of the property. We have offered to do everything possible to rectify the situation. The matter is now being litigated and it is our policy not to comment on pending litigation.”
Chaloner and Niven are suing Oakmont for negligence, fraud, and elder abuse.
“I don’t know what I could do different,” Niven said. “I went there. I bought a plot and I trusted these people… who do you trust?”
Chaloner said her hope is that another family is spared the pain she is going through. After her visits to the cemetery, she brings the heartache home. She is now left considering options that may never bring her peace for her husband’s final resting place.
“I either have to dig him up, and who wants to do that, or I’m not going to be with my family for eternity,” Chaloner said. “I can’t win. This is a no-win situation for me.”
The case is set to go to trial in October.