Discovery of new disinterment leads to more questions at Tulare Cemetery

Editor’s Note: The Valley Voice would like to issue a correction.

In the December 16 article The Valley Voice stated, “Neither Randy nor Keri Santos can request compensation for the grief caused by the district’s mistake.”

This statement is incorrect. The Valley Voice based their statement on Tulare Public Cemetery District form that the Santos siblings signed before the disinterment took place.

The form states, “Undersigned, on behalf of himself or herself represents that they have disclosed all persons that are the next of kin to the cemetery and agrees to release, indemnify and hold harmless Funeral Home, Cemetery, Vault Company, and agents, employees, and parent and successor companies, from any liability, including reasonable attorney’s fees, for any and all distress, illness, psychological injury and any damages resulting from viewing the Procedure.”

By signing the form the Santos cannot sue for any distress caused by the disinterment, but they can still sue the district for burying their mother in the incorrect grave.

The Valley Voice apologizes for their mistake.

The Valley Voice also stated, “The siblings had to sign a release before their mother would be put in the correct grave in time for their father’s burial.”

Tulare Public Cemetery District Chair Xavier Avila has stated several times that this is incorrect. Neither he, nor county counsel, nor the other board members have given any clarity on if the Santos’ mother would have been disinterred if her children had not signed the form.

The Valley Voice will publish a correction as soon as we receive clarification.

The Valley Voice also made a statement that Trustee Charlie Ramos felt was misleading.

“The cemetery’s former manager, Leonor Castaneda, came under fire from one trustee, Charlie Ramos, in a Tulare Police report, claiming that fraudulent disinterment documents had been created to disinter Justiniana Jacinto and Silvano Martinez on March 8, 2021. Castaneda in turn implicated Avila as also involved in the mishandling of the double disinterment.”

Ramos did not go to the Tulare Police of his own accord, but was appointed by the board to go to the Tulare Police Department after the board voted to hand information over to the police concerning Castaneda’s mishandling of several burials

The Valley Voice apologizes for any distress caused by our statements.

The Valley Voice was waiting to publish any corrections until after receiving the letter from TPCD formally requesting a retraction, which is protocol. During TPCD Special Meeting on December 21 Chair Avila stated after returning from an emergency closed session, “I am going to ask that the Valley Voice retract and correct their article.”

It should be noted that the TPCD minutes of the December 21 meeting submitted in today’s agenda packet misquote Avila. 

During today’s TPCD meeting Avila indicated no letter would be forth coming because he posted his complaints on facebook.

It is the Valley Voice’s policy to issue corrections whenever the paper has published erroneous statements.

During the December 2 regular Tulare Public Cemetery District meeting it was inadvertently revealed that another disinterment occurred on September 18, 2021.

The disinterment was discovered during a discussion about the September financials concerning a check for $5,000 to Peers-Lorentzen Funeral Home.

This is the twelfth disinterment at Tulare Cemetery of which the Valley Voice is aware.

On April 20, 2018, Edwina Lea Santos was buried in the “wrong grave at time of burial” according to a document provided by Tulare County Counsel to Trustee Alberto Aguilar.

The mistaken burial was discovered when her husband, Gary Santos, died September 3 of this year and was scheduled to be buried alongside his wife September 20.

Though disinterments have become more common at the Tulare Cemetery, several aspects of the current disinterment made it newsworthy.

While opening the grave, the backhoe damaged the vault and the casket, requiring the remains to be moved to a new casket.

The incident was recorded on a form that has not previously been seen. The “Application for Disinterment for Human Remains and Authorization and Release Agreement” required the family to “release, indemnify and hold harmless” the cemetery, funeral home, and vault company from “any liability” from any distress, illness, psychological injury or damages that resulted from viewing the disinterment.

Agreeing to the conditions was a prerequisite to move the body to its correct resting place, and written permission is required for disinterments under California law.

The cemetery’s former manager, Leonor Castaneda, came under fire from one trustee, Charlie Ramos, in a Tulare Police report, claiming that fraudulent disinterment documents had been created to disinter Justiniana Jacinto and Silvano Martinez on March 8, 2021. Castaneda in turn implicated Avila as also involved in the mishandling of the double disinterment.

According to California law it is a felony not to get written permission before disinterring a body.

Under Cloak of Darkness

In April of 2018, Ms. Santos was mistakenly buried in row X in a plot owned by TPCD instead of Row W where her family plot was located.

The disinterment, and then reinterment, of Ms. Santos into the correct plot was arranged to take place at 6 a.m. on a Saturday morning, a curious schedule seeing as it is still dark and the district would have to pay time and a half for four TPCD employees.

Present that morning were three groundskeepers, office manager Clara Bernardo, funeral director of Peers-Lorentzen Richard Mendivil, and Ms. Santos’ two adult children.

The procedure was supposed to be done by 10 a.m., but during the excavation the vault and casket were damaged to such a degree they needed to be replaced. In response, Mendivil summoned a hearse to collect the broken casket with Ms. Santos’ remains and transport them to the funeral home.

According to the bill submitted to TPCD, Peers-Lorentzen needed to “remove decomposed body from original casket and place in new casket, disinfect house equipment, disinfect Hearse,” and “dispose of casket deceased was in.”

TPCD had to pay Peers-Lorentzen $4,500 for the new casket and $500 for labor. This was in addition to the district paying time and a half to the four TPCD staff members, which added up to more than $1,000.

Randy Santos stayed until his mother’s body was reinterred and the procedure finished at 1 p.m.

Neither Randy nor Keri Santos can request compensation for the grief caused by the district’s mistake. The siblings had to sign a release before their mother would be put in the correct grave in time for their father’s burial.

The form states, “Undersigned, on behalf of himself or herself represents that they have disclosed all persons that are the next of kin to the cemetery and agrees to release, indemnify and hold harmless Funeral Home, Cemetery, Vault Company, and agents, employees, and parent and successor companies, from any liability, including reasonable attorney’s fees, for any and all distress, illness, psychological injury and any damages resulting from viewing the Procedure.”

Randy Santos did not appear to be aware that there had been 11 previous disinterments at the Tulare Cemetery but said that Peers-Lorentzen were very professional during the procedure. Santos did not want to comment further for this article.

According to Geneva Philpot, a Visalia Cemetery trustee, the Visalia Cemetery has had four disinterments over the last five years, and not necessarily due to mistakes made by the district, but requested by the families.

The Santos’ inability to collect a settlement is further evidence that written permission before disinterring a body has not been obtained in the past. The district has paid out tens of thousands of dollars in settlements to grieving families of disinterred loved ones indicating no release form or written permission was obtained.

Not disclosed to the public

Prior to the December 2 TPCD general meeting, neither the public nor Aguilar was aware of the disinterment.

During the review of TPCD September financials Aguilar asked why the district paid Peers-Lorentzen $5,000.

Bernardo responded, “It was for a disinterment.”

Aguilar expressed surprise replying, “We had another disinterment?” To which Linda Maloy, member of the audit committee, responded from the audience, “You knew about it, Alberto.”

Avila also insisted several times that Aguilar was aware of the disinterment.

“I’m informing you. You were informed about it,” Avila said.

Avila said that the board had a closed session meeting about the disinterment and implied Aguilar was present. If that was the case, why Maloy was privy to information discussed during a closed session was not explained. Avila also did not explain why the disinterment was not reported after the closed session.

Aguilar was also not informed of the March 8 double disinterment and was only made aware by the media. This is despite Section 9069.10 of the Health and Safety Code, which states, “An interment right does not include the right for disinterment of human remains except on consent of the cemetery district and the written consent of the surviving spouse, child, patent, or sibling, in that order of priority.”

According to Aguilar the decision to do the double disinterment “was solely made by TPCD Chair Xavier Avila and Cemetery Manager Leonor Castaneda.”

Verification Committee

Alex Gutierrez, a Tulare activist, asked about the status of the Verification Committee formed in April of this year to prevent bodies being buried in the wrong grave.

Gutierrez added that according to the district website the committee had only met once in July.

Maloy said this disinterment “happened a long time ago” and wasn’t brought up by the committee because the mistake was made in 2018. She said that when they have their next meeting “this will be one of the items they look at.”

Ms. Santos was in fact buried in the wrong grave under Castaneda’s tenure as manager. Contemporaneously, Avila and Trustee Steve Presant were praising her excellent job performance.

In April, she was allowed to retire with a $5,000 severance package, though mistakes and settlements from her tenure cost the district through settlements.

Members of the public and two trustees repeatedly sounded alarms regarding Castaneda’s performance. Those alarms were ignored by the majority of the board.

25 thoughts on “Discovery of new disinterment leads to more questions at Tulare Cemetery

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  1. Can you be any dumber in your info? I sit in the audit committee and we do question spending. That’s how I knew. My statement in October was wow Alberto will break his neck notifying Doe. Was told he already knows because of closed session meeting in Sept. I truly can’t believe he kept his mouth shut until Dec. Guess he just wanted to be on camera with his big discovery. 🤣

    • Linda you are without a doubt one of the most negative odious obnoxious offensive people affiliated with TPCD. Just the two of you, Dumb and Dumber aka Linda and Xavier. See no evil, hear no evil nor speak no evil unless talking about Alberto.

      • Speaking of odious. You can only see that HE does no wrong.
        Do you have any clue how many taxpayers dollars he has cost the cemetery?
        How can you sit on a board that has been created to do positive, good and protective things for the cemetery and constantly cause problems. Just so his name is in print! Attend a meeting and watch his arrogance.
        Plus the last meeting Alex didn’t record the melee that broke out at the end. Name calling and here came Alberto with his chest all puffed out when it didn’t even concern him. But the other camera was rolling! We made the choice not to put it on Perspective because it just gave him a platform for his nonsense.
        You say I’m negative, well then why have his last 5 emails to the cemetery office quote me in his request for info? And just what is it you believe he has ever accomplished or done for the public cemeteries? Been involved for 4 years and I haven’t witnessed a damned thing.

        • I have opined numerous times that the entire board be replaced. Too much personal public finger pointing, public infighting, and agendas going on for too long. You as well. The only ones who are immune to you guys are the people who are buried there, withstanding those being buried in wrong plots!

  2. To be fair, unless action was taken, items in closed session don’t have to be reported out.

    But also to be fair, the closed agenda has to be specific enough so the public knows what is being discussed.

    Is there any record of such an item?

    If so, then attendance records will show if Aguilar was there, if not, well, then we have Brown Act issues happening (surprise!).

    It’s strange that there isn’t a report from the Verification Committee about work they’ve done to identify both that people were put in the right graves in the past, and that since they started looking, new burials are put in the right grave.

    Has there been any review about how staff insures, with families of need be, that the grave to be opened for a new burial is in the right plot?

  3. I have to comment on this, if the burial staff would have been sent to another cemetery or other training perhaps they would not keep making these mistakes. Also, it seems that anyone who calls out to the board that what they are doing is illegal, they turn against that person and make them the bad guys. What is it going to take to get this district knowlegble of the laws to run the districts right?
    The district needs strong women on the board.

    • This mistake was made under the board guidance of Deal, Aguilar, Ringus and Gilson. Xavier had only been appointed to the board 11 days earlier.
      So why didn’t that board control the problem? At that pivotal point Gilson was Chairman. Did you instruct them to send employees to other more knowledgeable cemeteries for the expert training? So why impart all your “knowledge” now?

      • Your trying to be an unappointed board member of TPCD is not helping. You talk a big talk but your not knowlegible in cemetery laws .
        Your coming to Visalia Cemetery with three others and yelling at me was the most unprofessional act.. You attach Alberto when all he is trying to do its following the TPCD Bylaws and H&SC laws.

  4. I think the best idea for all of us is to get rid of the entire board and replace with people less full of themselves

  5. It doesn’t matter as to who was on the board when this violation occurred, it happened one time too many! An outright violation of the law, period. Grandma, you have the right idea of getting rid of the whole board, not just a select few. The only person that can do that is the Attorney General of the state of California. All the evidence needs to be sent to his office to substantiate their removal and the prosecution of those that violated the laws. It’s rather sad that there is not a plot map showing who’s interned where and this is a downfall of the past office manager. The other sad thing is there aren’t laws that protect people that own cemetery plots other than a piece of paper stating the plot number and who it belongs to. It should be like a deed of trust with the exact location of the plot and the people should have to record it just like you would on a piece of property. Geneva A. Philpot I think you’re slanting the the concept of a woman in the wrong direction and it could be considered gender discrimination. What it actually takes is training of the board on the laws that affect the district they are required to run. I rather question the question of the board lacking any of this training and the abidance of the laws that are required of them other than the “Brown Act”. I honestly feel they haven’t got that right just yet. It takes more than the blessings of the Board of Supervisor’s that appoint these people. Tulare County Legal Council is not even familiar the laws. Their belief is KISS, (Keep it Simple Stupid)! If you’ve heard Legal Council speak at a board meeting, “I think”, tells me they don’t know. It also surprises me you all have knowledge of a “closed session item”. Where do you get your information? An old saying, loose lips sinks ships. The only reason there is an audit committee is to avoid a recommendation by the Tulare County Civil Grand Jury of a “forensic audit”. You look at the misspending such as the $5,000.00 it just kind of makes you wonder. They want to build a new office building where are the funds for this coming from? You look at the monthly spending of $100.00 per board member per meeting. Oh, there is one exception to this, good ole Xavier Avila. But look who’s calling the shots? Is free of cost what we the public pay for being bullied into believing what he says is gospel? The proof is in the pudding. The only thing I’ve read and seen is what Catherine Doe writes and presents to the public. I don’t see any lies or exaggerations of the truth. She has standards and ethics she has to abide by. So you that want to turn a blind eye and call these articles lies that is your right. But take great care as to pointing fingers the laws go both ways. You’re the public and all I have read are pointing fingers to the problem. Turn this information along with the articles over to the State Attorney General, He’s the only one that has the power to do something, and it’s his duty to do so.

    • The audit committee was formed almost 2 years prior to the Grand Jury investigation, that if you read it found nothing. The Forensic Audit was a suggestion to stop the false accusations of embezzlement.
      Out of the 5 board members the only ones to take the $100 monthly stipend are Alberto Aguilar and Charlie Ramos. The stipend used to be $25 per meeting. Under the chairmanship of Gilson/vice chair Aguilar they increased it to $100 per regular meetings, $25 for special meeting. Subsidizing their Social Security.
      It was reported that there have been 12 disinterments. 4 unfortunately have been burial errors (I might point out that in 4 years I have never seen an office employee or board member dig a grave). The rest have been by families moving their loved ones to another cemetery to be closer to where they have themselves moved (even out of state).
      Catherine with standards and ethics! 🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣. The Sun Gazette uses her articles for teaching their reporters “what not to do” “report like this and you’re fired”. She has not been to a board meeting in 8 months. She gets all her info from Social Justice Warrior Gutierrez or direct from The Whistleblower Board member Aguilar. The two that love to be on camera and stir up false accusations.
      Seriously go to a meeting in person and sit thru all the crap they have to dance around to get something accomplished.
      Aguilar, Gilson, Deal all had positions on that board and nothing got accomplished. They get replaced and the accusations the have fed this paper we all of things done while they were on the board. Why didn’t they fix it then. The embezzlement charges were against the managers 2 employees ago. It went to DA twice, PD at least 4 times. Nothing found. And it has been brought up again at the Dec. 2, 2021 meeting.
      Then we get the manager that Gilson hired. Immediately accusations of embezzlement and wrong doing. So much so that there was the strong possibility of a defamation lawsuit against the whole board because you can’t go after just the 2 that were creating the problem.
      Now there is a new manager trying to bring the record keeping into at least this century. What is happening now? Same sitting 1 board member making her job damned near impossible to do and claiming mismanagement again. When does this bs stop?
      You are right after being appointed only 2 ways to remove a board member. Attorney General or if they are charged with a crime. Well 3,200 signatures 2 1/2 years ago didn’t get Aguilar removed because Attorney General was more interested in Benzeevi stealing from the hospital. So just how do you propose we remove all 5 sitting board members. If we can’t get rid of one how can we remove all five?
      There is a really political ploy going on here. Leave the cemetery alone. Let them bury people in peace without the worry of is my loved one’s name going to be published over and over and over. Let them rest in peace.
      The problems at the cemeteries are not just happening in Tulare (contrary to Philpot’s claims) it happens everywhere. It’s just that “everywhere” doesn’t have 1 board member that likes to share info that he should keep his mouth shut about with Catherine Doe. She’s like a dog with a bone. If it isn’t the cemetery it’s the Hanford City Council. Opinion (hers only) pieces. Not unbiased news.

      • Shut your mouth, don’t rock the boat, don’t show anyone what we’re doing! But you are serving on the board’s committees? I guess we know your commitment to transparency on them

        How about, let people bury their loved ones without having to worry if they will be buried in the right place, if their body will have to be moved, if their casket will break.. if the cemetery will be able to do its ONE job of leaving a person at rest! Do you find that less offensive than the public knowing what happens at its public cemetery?

        And since you are on the verification committee, will you commit to being proactive rather than reactive? To some kind of a proactive audit to find out how many others are at risk of being shuffled around? Or are you just there to provide cover for your buddies?

        Also interesting that you claim to know how the Exeter Sun works, when they get the cemetery’s legal advertisements. I am positive they are more ethical than to be so cozy with an advertiser and an entity they report regularly on.

        • Very transparent. Every meeting is on video. Watch and learn.
          Where do you think Catherine gets her info for her stories. She isn’t sitting in the meetings!

          This must be one of her disciples replying here. 🤣🤣🤣

          No one has enough guts to put their own name on anything. Speaking on no transparency.

          • Et tu Linda? First name only? When you point fingers at others for what you consider a lack of transparency you really need to make sure that you practice what you preach. After all anyone can post a comment using the first name of someone else right? Right? Right? 🙂 🙂 🙂

  6. Maloy has no credibility about anything. She lies, distorts and deflects. Maloy blames, blames, blames everyone for her misguided efforts. Maloy is a wicked, frustrated, old woman.
    To what ends will this woman go? Maloy, Avila, Presant, and Sharon Allison-Crook made a visit to the VISALIA Cemetery Board in July, 2021, and maligned Geneva Philpot, Visalia Cemetery Board Trustee during public comments, simply because she had offered educational assistance with cemetery government and health and safety codes to Tulare. Presant went on and on about Vicki Gilson, former Tulare Board member. To what end? Those in attendance said they were horrified and wondered at their audacity and sense of privilege.

    • Everyone who has been observing this infamous group you named are not surprised by their actions at the Visalia Cemetery Board. They like to spread their manure thick and wide, creating as much stink as they can by covering as much territory as they can. We too are often horrified at their audacity and sense of privilege but sadly there is nothing one can do except to call them out. Thankfully we have The Valley Voice to report the facts. If the Sun Gazette continues to be dedicated to printing substantiated facts and wishes to be as newsworthy and respected as The Valley Voice, they too will eventually become a target by this infamous group.

  7. The original date as stated is April 20, 2018 when the first body was placed in the wrong spot. Whom was in charge at that time of handling this? Whom were also on the Cemetery Board and staff in April of 2018? Please name all of them. This is where the primary blame should be placed!

    It wasn’t until September 2021 that this disinterment was discovered by current staff and then the board of directors. The error of 2018 had to be corrected in 2021, yet it sounds and reads like all the fault is on the current staff and board members.

    How would any of you like to be blamed for something that happened before you were involved? It is sad the original disinterment happened from 2018 and discovered this past September. Wonder how many more from the past will be discovered?

    • The article makes clear that the mistake was not the current manager’s fault and says who was in charge at the time.

      “Maloy said this disinterment “happened a long time ago” and wasn’t brought up by the committee because the mistake was made in 2018. She said that when they have their next meeting “this will be one of the items they look at.”

      Ms. Santos was in fact buried in the wrong grave under Castaneda’s tenure as manager. Contemporaneously, Avila and Trustee Steve Presant were praising her excellent job performance.”

      • Catherine
        You are blaming our manager by saying “ under the cloak of darkness “ insinuating some sort of wrong doing and you insinuate that our staff pressured the family into signing their rights away for what happened 3 years earlier. That is false and you need to correct your article .
        We praise all the employees for the good work they do ! We are the board , we are supposed to praise employees. We are not supposed to criticize employees in pubic only in closed session. Any board member that publicly criticizes a employee is putting the district at risk of a law suit . In this article you even confirm that Vicky Gilson and Alberto Aguiar did in fact make a negative pubic evaluations of a employee. What do you think that $5000 settlement was about ? It was approved by the board with a 5 -0 vote . That’s right Alberto voted yes. He always vote’s no but this one time he voted yes .

        I got on the board in March of 2018 . My observation was the board failed to provide the proper training and staff to correctly do the job. I wanted to hire a extra person then but was shot down. When Steve Presant got on the board he saw the same . We voted to get our employees training and our motion failed . We saw how the office had a overload of work and was understaffed but our motion to hire another office person failed 2-3 Steve and myself voting yes . It wasn’t until Jim Pentagon got on the board that we had another vote to hire the needed staff . That office operated for over 2 years without the proper personal. When a board fails to provide the necessary staff , training and resources etc then it is a failure that belongs to the board and not the employees. You pick and choose who you vilify. You don’t tell the whole story and you defend wrong doing by the people you like . Do better

  8. Maloy is a troublemaker, bully, and has no clue how a public meeting should work. She has her hands in all the pots of the cemetary business i.e. audit, verification, cemetarians (although not officially cemetary board). She speaks out during meetings when she shouldn’t be. She provides input on agenda items when she shouldn’t be. The entire board meetings are often ran without any decorum or rules of order. Maloy is part of the problem. Remove her from the committees and that will be a start to problem solving. Until she is removed, the board needs to tell her to keep her spider webbed trap shut and not to comment during meetings when she shouldn’t be commenting.

    • I’m pretty sure this is the pot calling the kettle black here. It is very obvious you haven’t been to a meeting in at least the last 8 months. I don’t have my hands as you state in all the items you list. So surprised you have so much time on your hands to scrutinize my comings and goings. But let me clarify a couple innuendo you are spewing: 1. I am NOT on the verification committee. 2. I have absolutely no input on board meeting agendas. That is the Manager and Chairman’s job. 3. I am asked questions regarding financial issues during meetings because I actually pay attention and participate with audit. 4. Could care less about your personal attacks because unlike you I have a very good working relationship with staff and all but one board member.

      As for The Cemeterians. Yep one of the founding members. This group actually do something not just sit behind a computer and spew hate. Get out from behind the screen and go see what we have accomplished without the constantly patting ourselves on the back or being impressed with the numbers of members we have. I sleep very well at night, you?
      Again too afraid to use your own name. 🤣

      • such the ego you have, Linda. You like to toot your own horn for what? To get accolades?? You are assuming I am someone ? Who do you think I am? I have viewed all the meetings but that is none of your business if I do or not. You like to accuse someone being pot calling kettle black, your first line of defense is to accuse people of not attending meetings. The meeting is available to watch when posted by a couple of people online. So I take the opportunities to watch. Your hands are very much involved in what I said. All I am spewing is facts. You don’t like facts so here you go — You may not be an “active” or “appointed” member of the verification committee but you had no issue speaking on behalf of the committee as the article quoted you about their actions. I didn’t say you had input on the board meeting agendas. When I say you provide “input on agenda items when” you shouldn’t be, I am referring to you opening your trap and saying things about an item of discussion. I’ve seen many meetings where you have spoken up, made comments, or given your opinion when the board is in the middle of discussion and the board has not asked for your input. There is a time for public comment and public input on an item on the agenda, but you fail to follow that, you act as if you have the authority to speak up whenever you want. It is clearly stated in the article you made a comment about Mr. Aguilar knowing about the disinternment. “Aguilar expressed surprise replying, “We had another disinterment?” To which Linda Maloy, member of the audit committee, responded from the audience, “You knew about it, Alberto.” Keep your trap shut. It is not your place to speak out of line during a meeting. There is a procedure called point of order and you do not follow it. Your working relationship is nothing more than kissing ass. How bout them hams and rolls? LOL You boast that you have one board member you don’t have a good working relationship. Perhaps if you made an effort instead of being closed minded about him, meet him halfway I would think differently about you but you would rather generate your personal attacks towards him. I will admit he has some growing up to do as well but you be the bigger person which I’ve yet to see at all. You accuse of spewing hate, you do just as well doing so, Linda. I don’t have to use my name because I know it irks you to no end who I am. I know enough, just watch. There is more to come out about you, be careful, dearie.

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