Family finds peace far from sewage-laden cemetery plot

FORT MILL -- Debra Minton and her father said they'd sleep better Thursday night.

Debra Minton's mother, sister and nephew were disinterred from Fort Mill's Unity Cemetery and put to rest at Forest Hills Cemetery on Thursday after a sewage leak was discovered in Minton's mother's original grave last summer.

"Since then, I have dreamt about my mother every night," Minton said last week.

Minton's mother died in July 2006 and was buried beside the other two family members in the town cemetery.

The family underwent the normal grieving process until this summer, when a white substance began to appear repeatedly on the grave marker. Minton and her father thought someone was defacing the grave.

When a family friend lifted the vase to clean underneath, he discovered raw sewage seeping up onto the marker from below. The white material appeared to be toilet paper.

Minton asked town officials to open the grave and remove the sewage. What they discovered about 3 feet under the ground was a broken sewage line that ran across part of her mother's grave.

Town officials thought it had been broken by the monument company. The monument company thought it had happened when town workers dug the grave.

"My concern is, are there any other sewer lines out there?" said Grady Ervin, who sits on the Town Council's cemetery board. "I hope to find out. The gravesite never should have been sold if there was a sewer line there."

Town Manager David Hudspeth doesn't believe there are other lines, although he said he isn't sure. The town bought the property about a decade ago and removed houses there. The sewer line that was hit was laid 30 to 50 years ago, he said.

"We don't have records that go back that far," he said. "A metal detector won't help because the lines don't necessarily contain metal. We have a small camera we can run through the line, but we don't know if it's connected."

The town dug to the front bottom and sides of Minton's mother's vault and removed detectable sewage.

"I saw clean dirt, but I didn't know if it was clean inside the vault," Minton said.

She ran a gloved hand around the seam of her mother's vault and found sewage on the glove.

The town layed a new sewage line along the shoulder of Tom Hall Street about 3 feet in front of the three graves. After sleepless nights, Minton asked the town to move the line farther from the graves.

"We met with the family a couple of weeks ago," Hudspeth said, "but it was difficult to get a full understanding because they were emotionally upset. We are willing to work with them, but we haven't heard from them since."

This week, the family obtained disinterment papers in Columbia, and vault company workers in hazard suits Thursday removed the three vaults, transporting them to Forest Hills Cemetery. The family reburied them there, Minton's mother in a new vault.

"I didn't want to dig them up and carry them across town," Minton said. "You should only have to bury your mother once."

As the process neared completion Thursday afternoon, Minton expressed relief.

"My family is at peace now," she said. "I can lay my head down tonight and sleep."