published Tuesday, February 11th, 2014

2nd lawsuit in works against Memphis area cemetery

Regina Simmons, left, and Angela Watkins talk to reporters about their inability to find the graves of relatives buried at Galilee Memorial Gardens cemetery in Memphis.
Regina Simmons, left, and Angela Watkins talk to reporters about their inability to find the graves of relatives buried at Galilee Memorial Gardens cemetery in Memphis.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

MEMPHIS — Relatives of three people buried at a Tennessee cemetery that is accused of mishandling bodies said Tuesday they don't know where their loved ones' remains are located because they were not allowed to see the caskets being lowered into the ground.

Charles Branch told reporters that workers at Galilee Memorial Gardens just stood around after a funeral and he left before seeing his mother's casket buried. He said he returned to the cemetery in Bartlett but could not find the grave for his mother, Pearlie.

"When we want to go and spend time with her, we want to know where she's at," Branch said during a news conference at The Cochran Law Firm's office in Memphis.

Two other clients of the law firm, Regina Simmons and Angela Watkins, told similar stories. Simmons said the burial service for her mother, Hattie Mae Simmons, took place under a tent and she did not even see a plot where she was supposed to be buried.

The cemetery's owner, Jemar Lambert, was arrested Jan. 24 on charges that three bodies were buried in the same grave without permission. He has a court date scheduled for Feb. 24.

In a separate case, Lambert was indicted last year on charges that he sold burial plots to families on adjacent land not owned by the cemetery.

Lambert is being sued by relatives of two other people buried at Galilee who claim he operated without a valid license and misplaced or lost track of buried remains. Two Memphis funeral homes that took bodies to Galilee for burial also were named in the lawsuit.

Attorney Elbert Jefferson, who represents Branch, Simmons and Watkins, said he is also planning a lawsuit.

The Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance says Lambert kept burying bodies at the cemetery for two years after his registration expired on Dec. 31, 2010.

A judge in Nashville said at a Monday hearing that a receiver is being appointed to take control of the cemetery. Lambert's lawyer for the receivership hearing said Lambert is being represented in the lawsuit by another law firm, which did not return a call seeking comment Tuesday.

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