Repair process begins at cemetery with damaged caskets and vaults - WAFB 9 News Baton Rouge, Louisiana News, Weather, Sports

PAUL GATES INVESTIGATES

Repair process begins at cemetery with damaged caskets and vaults

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By Paul Gates - bio | email

BUECHE, LA (WAFB) - The West Baton Rouge Parish Coroner's Office and the parish president have moved very swiftly and efficiently following a story about broken caskets and exposed human bodies in a cemetery on River Road near Bueche.

"You know, after we were contacted yesterday with Paul Gates, we saw the need to get this matter taken care of," said WBR Parish President Riley Berthelot. The matter was a small cemetery on River Road West. 

A huge tree had fallen, most likely during Hurricane Gustav. The tree broke open a dozen or more vaults and caskets, exposing the human remains of those laid to rest. Yancy Guerin, chief death investigator of the West Baton Rouge Coroner's Office, was notified. He then contacted Berthelot.

Early Wednesday, a huge undertaking got underway at the cemetery. Heavy equipment began the job of cutting up the giant tree to remove the heavy limbs from the broken and busted vaults and caskets. Inside were bodies, some still in their burial clothing. The bodies were removed and placed in body bags to be taken to the coroner's morgue. Smaller body parts, mainly bones and skulls, were gathered with as much care as possible. 

"We're going to do our best to make sure that the integrity of the remains are protected and any personal belongings we find in there," said Guerin. Assistant Attorney General Ryan Seidemann, who was given on loan from the Attorney General's Office, made sure that no human remains were left behind. Parish President Berthelot did the same, knowing just how important this work is. "The emotional part of it, these are the people's families and loved one. It's just something you've got to handle very gingerly."

Guerin has mapped the small plot of ground, tracking each body, making sure that everyone will be accounted for when the meaning and the purpose of this little country cemetery is put back together again. "The ones that are unidentified, we're not going to make an attempt to ID them. We are just going to give them a case number and make sure they get put back in the same spot. We will move at least five today. I think everything else is secure enough that we can leave," he said.

A blood relative of many of those buried in the cemetery, Sidney Poray, showed up Wednesday to look at what was going on. When asked if he felt a lot better seeing the work happening now, he replied, "Oh! Right now, this time right here, I'm rejoicing. Something is done about it and I really appreciate it."

Once the actual title holder of the land the cemetery sits on is identified, if at all, it is possible that FEMA can help. Parish President Berthelot says FEMA has a program for disaster-related incidents involving historical buildings, cemeteries, and such, so help from FEMA could be a blessing for the people with dead relatives buried in the cemetery.

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