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Thursday, July 1, 2004 02:10 pm

Turning over rocks

A Springfield attorney and a statewide trade group have launched independent investigations into safety conditions at Oak Ridge Cemetery.

The Illinois Cemetery and Funeral Homes Association responded to an anonymous complaint they received citing a pair of injuries to children at the state's largest cemetery.

In letters to both Mayor Tim Davlin and Oak Ridge Executive Director LuAnn Johnson, dated June 7, the trade group demanded a response to the complaint.

"What we want to do is ensure the preservation and safety of the cemetery," says association director Victoria Hand, who plans to send an investigator to inspect conditions at Oak Ridge.

She added that the group had no legal authority. "Our role in this is peer pressure," she says.

Hand declined to provide Illinois Times a copy of the letter.

The city has not responded to the letter, though mayoral spokesperson Amber Sabin confirmed that Davlin had received it and that he spoke with a board member from the group by telephone.

"We've invited members of the association to come down," Sabin says. "The mayor would give them a personal tour if they'd like."

On a related front, a local lawyer has been retained by the family of 8-year-old Andrew Richards, whose leg was broken in April when an old tombstone at Oak Ridge fell on him [Todd Spivak, "Tombstone blues," April 29].

Fred Benson, who once served as Springfield's lead Corporation Counsel, has been probing since mid-May whether the city should bear responsibility for the child's injury.

City officials have admitted there are broken and leaning tombstones at Oak Ridge, but say they cannot repair or restore them because the markers are owned by families.

Also, Assistant Corporation Counsel James Lang says the city is largely exempt from liability according to municipal code.

But Benson suspects that the city may have been negligent.

He points out that a citizen testified before the Springfield City Council and the Oak Ridge Cemetery Board of possible perils at the cemetery just months before the Richards boy was injured.

"The question remains," he says, "whether the city had a duty to restrict access to [the cemetery], and/or warn of dangerous conditions."

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