Family waits, and waits, for opportunity to bury loved one

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Jonesboro burial halted after backhoe incident

As far as days go, March 4 was a beautiful one for a burial.

Ten days earlier, Helen Baynes, a retired Delta customer support agent and department store greeter, had died after an excruciating battle with dementia.

Her only child, Trina L. Baynes, had planned a nice funeral for her at Travelers Rest Missionary Baptist Church. Dozens of family members came from all over the country to say goodbye to the 82-year-old in the Black tradition, with mournful prayers, song and praise.

At the end of the church service, as the family followed Helen Baynes’ casket down the center aisle to load it into the hearse, before driving the seven miles to Carver Memorial Gardens for burial, a funeral home director pulled Trina Baynes aside.

“They can’t bury your mother today,” he told her. “They are going to refund your money. The backhoe broke down.”

Trina Baynes froze.

“The backhoe broke down?” she questioned, both confused and stunned.

In what can only be described as a horrible culmination to one of the worst days of her life, Baynes soon learned that, as a crew was digging her mother’s plot at the Carver Memorial Gardens in Jonesboro, the backhoe shut down.

The giant machine was left sprawled atop what should have been Helen Baynes’ grave. You can’t just tow a 15,000-pound backhoe with its arm extended.

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Credit: Miguel Martinez

So it sat there.

A day. Two days. Three days. A week.

And as of Wednesday, 11 days after the funeral, it is still sitting there, while Helen Baynes’ body continues to rest at Gus Thornhill’s funeral home.

“This is killing me,” said Baynes, her voice barely above a whisper after two weeks of crying, coupled with an attack of allergies. “That is why my immune system is weak. I am in a constant state of grief because I have not completed the committal ceremony for my mother.”

Rebecca Seaton, the general manager of the cemetery, said that she is doing all that she can do to rectify the situation. She said that she has been trying to find someone to fix or move the backhoe, but has not had any luck.

Burials since March 4 have been handled by an outside contractor — with a working backhoe, she said.

“I have been doing everything I can do to get this resolved,” Seaton said. “We are working as hard as we can. We are very sorry that they are hurting. And, as you would imagine, this is very upsetting to us too.”

Credit: Courtesy Trina Baynes

Credit: Courtesy Trina Baynes

Noula Zaharis, director of the Securities and Charities Division of the Georgia Secretary of State’s office, which oversees cemeteries, said her office has opened an investigation into the situation and is prepared to take enforcement actions if it is not resolved quickly.

“Secretary Raffensperger and the Securities Division put the enforcement of cemetery care and maintenance as a top priority for our office,” said a spokesman for Brad Raffensperger’s office.

Trina Harris contacted the state on March 8 and got a response two days later.

Zaharis said that an inspector was immediately sent to Carver to look at the situation, as well as an attorney to talk to Seaton.

“We strongly encouraged her to get a plan to get it fixed,” Zaharis said.

On Tuesday, Zaharis said that Seaton checks in with the state daily to report any progress she has made.

“We are putting a lot of pressure on them and overseeing this process,” Zaharis said. “The family would like to have a burial.”

Carver Memorial Gardens is no stranger to the Baynes family.

Credit: Courtesy Trina Baynes

Credit: Courtesy Trina Baynes

Since 1975, Trina Baynes estimates that at least 30 family members, including her son and her grandmother, have been buried there.

“We have never had to go through anything like this before,” she said. “I just feel like, as a Black American, we go through so much. My mother went through so much. I just want her to be at peace in death.”

Seaton still does not have a timeline as to when the backhoe can be removed, although the state and Zaharis want the family to at least have the option of having a burial by this weekend.

Until then, the family is waiting.

Trina Baynes — a 63-year-old information technology professional who, since a teenager, has also volunteered with several civil rights organizations like the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the King Center — often leans on passages from the Bible to get her through difficult situations and to guide her life.

During this , she keeps returning to Ecclesiastes 12:7.

“Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.”

“As devoted Baptist people, we believe that. My mother always knew that she would be buried,” Trina Baynes said. “We believe that she needs to be returned to the dirt.”

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger is encouraging any Georgian with issues concerning cemeteries to call 470) 312-2640.

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