Houston Chronicle: Harris County could take over Aldine cemetery where grave markers destroyed

By Mike Snyder

February 27, 2018 

State regulators have refused to renew a license held by the caretaker of a small northeast Harris County cemetery -- the first official finding that workers destroyed grave markers while clearing the site in 2016.

The order signed Monday by the state banking commissioner, Charles G. Cooper, could pave the way for Harris County to take over care of the cemetery, where members of several generations of Aldine-area residents are buried. The banking commission regulates "perpetual care" cemeteries in Texas.

Foresthaven Cemetery Corp., which has held the perpetual care license for about 30 years, has until March 29 to appeal the decision by requesting a hearing overseen by an administrative law judge. The banking department's action does not affect Foresthaven's ownership of the property, only its authority to operate the cemetery.

The company's president, Sugar Land attorney Corwin Teltschik, did not respond to a request for comment. Cooper's order said Teltschik maintained that no headstones were destroyed.

The order states that Foresthaven's agents destroyed "two or more" headstones in the fall of 2016, adding that "the manner in which (Foresthaven) allowed its agents to clear the cemetery was not undertaken with the care due to the persons interred in the cemetery and does not demonstrate a character that warrants the public's confidence."

Cooper also found that Foresthaven had not adequately maintained the cemetery — family members have handled mowing and other upkeep for years — and that Harris County was willing to maintain the cemetery if Foresthaven's license were not renewed.

Tammie West Wall, a family member who has led the effort to restore the damaged headstones and protect the cemetery, said she was grateful for Cooper's decision.

"This has been a long road, and to get anything positive out of it, to me, it's a true blessing," Wall said. "Everywhere else we've turned, we've gotten nowhere."

Harris County prosecutors looked into the case at the families' request and presented evidence to a grand jury last year, but no charges were filed. Assistant District Attorney Valerie Turner said her review concluded that at least four or five markers, and "probably more," had been removed by workers clearing the site.

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