San Benito family trying to bury man next to wife; city says old cemetery is closed

A family is in a dispute with the City of San Benito over a burial plot at the City Of San Benito Cementerio El Nopal. (Maricela Rodriguez/Valley Morning Star)

SAN BENITO — Jesus Garcia’s dying wish was to be buried next to his wife Juanita, whose headstone bears both their names at the old city cemetery where members of her family rest.

So five years ago, he bought his plot for $250.

“They were his dying wishes — that’s why he bought the plot next to her with the double headstone,” Mary Aguirre, Garcia’s sister who’s holding onto her brother’s receipt, said. “It meant everything. My brother died with a broken heart. He never recovered from grieving from her death.”

Since July 11, when Garcia died at 65, the family’s been trying to bury his body.

But after the city closed the cemetery in late 2015, officials stopped allowing families to bury their loved ones at the old cemetery known as El Nopal.

Now, City Manager Manuel De La Rosa is allowing Aguirre to bury her brother’s body at the city’s Memorial Park cemetery, which opened about 10 years ago.

“I have offered the family a burial plot in the San Benito Memorial Park Cemetery, which is adjacent to El Nopal, the city’s historic cemetery,” De La Rosa stated. “The city has also offered an additional burial plot should the family decide to relocate their family member’s remains to the San Benito Memorial Park Cemetery.”

If family members decide to bury Garcia’s wife next to his plot, Aguirre said they would incur the cost of exhuming her body.

“They offered a plot next to my brother next to his wife if we wanted to exhume her body at our expense,” she said.

But family members like Jesse Garcia, Garcia’s son, believe exhuming his mother’s body “isn’t right.”

Precedent

Since Garcia’s death, the Thomae Garza Funeral Home has been holding his body.

“We haven’t been able to bury my brother,” Aguirre said.

At the funeral home, Director Albert Vega said the city has allowed other families who have bought plots to bury their loved ones at the old cemetery.

“They allow people to bury on a case-by-case basis,” Vega, who oversees burials at area cemeteries, said. “They have to show proof of payment — and this man paid. The man already has his headstone and his wife’s there. Why do you want to separate this man from his wife?”

Now, Aguirre’s looking at the law.

“They are in breach of contract,” she said.

City’s case

At City Hall, De La Rosa stated the city closed the cemetery after it reached “capacity.”

“The city closed its historic cemetery several years ago after human remains were found multiple times while workers were attempting to dig graves,” he stated. “In 2016, confirmed reports of unearthed remains prompted the city to approve some burials on a case-by-case basis. The cemetery is more than 100 years old and no records were maintained over the years to indicate where individual graves were placed and no casket liners were required, which no doubt caused the resulting problem with human remains.”

fdelvalle@valleystar.com