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Judge orders Shepherd Memorial Park into receivership

Troubles are mounting for Shepherd funeral services, the long-respected company that’s been in business in Hendersonville for 118 years.

Three weeks before the N.C. Board of Funeral Service issued an order revoking the permits and licenses of Thos. Shepherd & Son Funeral Directors, a Superior Court judge granted a motion by the N.C. Cemetery Commission to impound the assets of Shepherd Memorial Park and force the company into receivership.
Court records show handwritten synopses of 10 complaints made to the Raleigh-based cemetery regulators about foot-high grass, unfindable headstones and a locked gate guarded by a pit bull.
The nine-member Cemetery Commission has authority under state law to regulate cemeteries’ licensure, management, sales and preneed contracts and to seek relief in court to prevent violations of state law by impounding the property, books and records and appointing a manager.
Filed in Henderson County Superior Court by Hendersonville attorney Sharon Alexander on behalf of the commission, the complaint lists 13 alleged violations of the state Cemetery Act, including failing to properly maintain the grounds, denying families access to graves of loved ones, failing to keep accurate records and failing to deposit money for perpetual care contracts to the Perpetual Care Trust.
“The Commission, and the public interest that it represents, are likely to sustain irreparable harm in the absence preliminary relief in that the physical condition of the cemetery will continue to be neglected (and) the cemetery trust fund will continue to be underfunded and at risk,” Alexander said in the lawsuit, adding that the “financial condition of the cemetery is currently unknown by the commission.”
Superior Court Judge Marvin Pope of Buncombe County granted an injunction and the motion for receivership after a hearing on the lawsuit, Alexander said, and directed attorneys to nominate a receiver. The judge’s action on the appointment is pending.
Consumer complaints to the Cemetery Commission highlighted numerous problems:
• “Even though I knew where they are buried it was impossible to dig through grass to find their marker,” Joyce R. Lance said.
• “Saturday there was a young fellow with a pit bull dog at the gate telling myself and the elderly man that we could not come in because it was private property,” Nancy Sayles said.
• “They are not keeping up the grounds,” said Kayley Pace, whose grandparents are buried there. “The last time I went to put flowers on the grave the grass was up to my knees.”
In a 2½-page response to the 13 alleged violations filed Oct. 7, cemetery employee Daniel Yaeger asserted that many corrections had been made. “We have hired more staff members and are taking steps to insure that all business from now on is conducted correctly and with the kind of professionalism that is expected in the funeral and cemetery industry,” he said.
The complaints and Yaeger’s response included:
• Failure to maintain grounds: At one time the memorial park had only one employee to maintain the 22-acre cemetery. “We also had the unfortunate circumstance of all mowing machines needing repair and a long waiting time at the repair shop,” Yaeger said. The machines were repaired and “we now have staff capable of maintaining the grounds.”
• Denying access: When aggrieved families organized an effort to mow the grounds last May, the memorial park closed the gates. “We simply could not allow this due to … liability,” he said.
• Accepting payment for a plot and failing to execute a contract. Since that was brought to his attention, “we have been diligently working to locate all such files and get the proper contracts and warranty conveyances filled out,” he said.
• Failing to report perpetual care information to the Cemetery Commission from Jan. 1, 2018, through June 30 of this year and possibly after that: Memorial park employees were “doing an internal audit” in an effort to “get caught up” and account for money the company owes the commission.
• Failing to report preneed contracts and pay money into the Cemetery Funds of North Carolina trust fund: Yaeger repeated that “we are doing an internal audit” and planning to “pay all fines and fees … as soon as we possibly can.”
Yaeger said last week that “the corrections are being made.” He declined to answer other questions before talking to his attorney.