MERCED — Planada resident Teresa Soto walked up and down the aisles of the Calvary Cemetery in Merced a few weeks ago, frustration and panic growing as she searched for her deceased husbands grave.
I just kept saying, Hon, I know youre here somewhere, Im going to find you, Soto recalled.
The 63-year-old grew tired of searching the plot numbers and placed a call to her daughter in Sacramento.
I told my daughter, Ive been up and down the one section and I couldnt find his grave site, said Soto, who lost her husband to heart failure after 45 years of marriage. Im almost positive this is where they buried my husband, but I couldnt figure out why his name wasnt there.
Sotos husbands grave site was there but the cemetery staff accidentally placed the wrong headstone on the site.
Instead of her husbands name Henry Soto, Jr. the marker read David Ybarra.
I was shocked, Soto said. How could they be so foolish to put someone elses stone on my husbands grave?
Sotos daughter, Michelle Vargas, said Tuesday her family is devastated by the error and she wants cemetery staff to be held accountable.
Youre dealing with someones emotions, youre dealing with grief, said Vargas, 41. This is ridiculous. My mom was literally going through all the holes (plots), looking for the right number.
Jimmy Frye, Merced Cemetery District superintendent, acknowledged the mistake Wednesday, saying it happened because a staff member transposed a number on the paperwork that tells workers where to place the headstones. Frye said the cemetery staff corrected the issue as soon as it was brought to their attention.
I acknowledged her grief, and I apologized, Frye said Wednesday. My policy is, typically, anything like that is remedied immediately. It just got mixed up; its an honest human error.
The mix-up was brought to managements attention Oct.4, Frye said, and staff moved the headstone to its correct grave on the morning of Oct.7. Frye estimated the headstone was in the wrong location for at least a month.
Frye, whos been with the district 10 years, said these type of mistakes are uncommon. Although errors involving headstones do happen, Frye said, staff usually correct the issue before a family member sees it.
Weve made mistakes that have been regretful, but this particular incident has not happened before, he said. Mistakes are few and far between, but it happens; its reality.
Frye said he offered Vargas a reimbursement for a $150 setting fee for her fathers headstone but said it wasnt enough. I was very understanding of her situation and tried to help her out, but she was demanding compensation or she would contact an attorney, the media and the board, Frye said.
Vargas said the $150 fee doesnt cover the grief suffered by her family and is asking the district for a formal apology letter and full reimbursement of her mothers companion plot about a $700 value. Vargas points to another problem she experienced at Calvary: She claims her family waited 20 minutes for staff to dig a hole at her grandmothers burial in 2009.
Im tired of the Im sorry, and something needs to change, Vargas said. The top people need to figure out how to run the cemetery because theyre the ones in charge.
The Merced Cemetery District manages the cemetery on B Street and Calvary on Childs Avenue in Merced. A five-member board oversees the district, which has an annual budget of $670,000. The two cemetery sites handle about 250 to 300 burials each year.
Vargas said she was concerned for the family of David Ybarra. She said they have not been informed of the headstone error by cemetery staff.
I didnt see that it had any benefit in it, Frye said of his decision not to contact Ybarras family. I didnt see the need to upset them over it.
Ybarras brother, Joseph Nunez, said Wednesday he was not aware of the mix-up until contacted by The Merced Sun-Star. The 85-year-old Santa Cruz resident said hes relieved the issue has been taken care of.
Im a little disappointed because they called and told me the headstone was done, Nunez said of his brothers grave site. But I understand people make mistakes.
Nunez said he is planning a trip to Merced County soon to visit his brother, an Army veteran, who died at age 78.
As for Vargas, she plans to bring her complaints to the Merced Cemetery District board meeting on Nov.21.
I want the people that are on the board to make a change, she said.
Sun-Star staff writer Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or firstname.lastname@example.org.