Family Complains of Water Pipe Damage at Grave

CemeteryBest3.jpgRepeated instances of flooding at King David National Memorial Park, a Jewish cemetery owned and operated by the National Funeral Home on Rt. 29 in Falls Church, has not only inundated headstones, but has drawn the ire of those with loved ones buried there as numerous complaints have allegedly gone ignored.

When Phyllis Schwartz’s mother passed away in 1999, deteriorating conditions around the grave became evident over the next two years.

“The following years there was no grass around her. It was like she was just put there,” Schwartz said.

Schwartz noticed the flooding beginning in May 2003. More recently, Schwartz saw that her mother’s grave was elevated from the ground and the headstone was displaced because of the water pressure from underground. She was told the flooding was due to faulty pipes below the burial site that ruptured, causing water to inundate graves throughout several plots.

“The plumbing system was probably put out there 50 years or so ago,” said David Benner, general manager of the cemetery. “[The pipes] need repair … since it’s very costly for us to have water draining and not controlling it, we usually address that right away.”
Though Schwartz, who resides in Byrdstown, Tenn., filed complaints for years prior to 2008, a recent visit to the cemetery on Mother’s Day confirmed her grievances had not yet been addressed.

“I go up to my mom’s grave and I’m sinking. [Mud] is above my ankles,” said Schwartz, who last visited the graveyard on May 27, 2008 and supplied dated photos to the News-Press as evidence.

Benner said the incident was resolved immediately after he was notified of the water surrounding her mother’s grave following Schwartz’s visit on May 11 and it is no longer an issue. When a News-Press photographer attempted to photograph the allegedly affected area, she was told to leave by cemetery employees.

Benner maintained that issues associated with the flooding are not widespread. {highslide}816/nationalmemorialpoark816.jpg{/highslide}

“Basically, other than this one family we really haven’t had an issue as far as families complaining about the water. So I was kind of surprised that this really came up,” said Benner, who has worked with the cemetery since 1994.

However, a second visit by News-Press reporters on Wednesday, June 18, found that a number of other grave sites located near the front gates of the King David Memorial Garden exhibited the same muddy conditions of which Schwartz had complained. Murky puddles obscured grave markers and what appeared to be a tire track ran over one head stone. One plot was completely submerged under a particularly deep pool of oily water. It could not be determined, however, if the source of the water was from underground or from recent heavy rain.

Among the affected sites were the grave of Edward Holtzman, who died in 1971 and an unidentified member of the Nadelman family whose first name was unreadable due to sludge covering the headstone.

Mike Andrews, a communications specialist of Fairfax County Health Department, said health concerns should be considered if the damaged pipes have caused standing water to form around graves.

Though the damaged pipes pose no environmental threat to area drinking water according to Andrews, he said standing pools of water are prime breeding sites for mosquitoes. The main health concern is the outbreak of the West Nile virus, a mosquito-borne disease naturally found in bird populations. Occasionally, the infection can be transmitted to other animals and humans through the bite of an infected mosquito.

“I just want my mom’s plot to be the way it should be,” Schwartz said.

According to recent cemetery license records issued by the Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation, two closed complaints were filed against the cemetery in December 2005 and January 2007. The department determined that sufficient evidence did not exist and therefore the complaints did not establish probable cause of a violation and no disciplinary action was taken.
Benner said he was unaware of any complaints that were filed against the cemetery during his tenure at the graveyard.

National Funeral Home, owner of King David National Memorial Park, was recently cited for keeping inadequate records and an unsanitary preparation room, and for operating without a license or manager, according to authorities in a report released last week. The funeral home was fined $13,000 and placed on probation for three years.

Approximately 40,000 people have been interred at the cemetery at 7482 Lee Hwy., in Falls Church during its 78 year history.

“My mom was my best friend. I get so upset because my family is there that I don’t know what to say or do. I didn’t buy swamp land. I brought my mom a plot,” Schwartz said.