One week after floodwater lifted the coffin of a Houston woman from an historic African American cemetery, a widower has filed suit demanding better cooperation from the church and the funeral home to put his re-lived nightmare to rest.
A coffin containing the remains of Carolyn Joyce Fobbs-Lee rose to the surface last Tuesday morning at Riceville Cemetery along Keegans Bayou in southwest Houston. The flood carried the coffin about 100 yards before it came to rest on a concrete hiking and biking trail along the bayou.
Richard Lee says he got a call last Tuesday from a deacon from Riceville Mt. Olive Baptist Church that his wife's casket had surfaced and asked him to come to the cemetery to identify her. Fobbs-Lee died of lung cancer and was buried at the cemetery in 2007."I was distraught. I was just out of my mind. I couldn't believe this happened. I thought that I had put her to rest and I thought I had put this all behind me," Richard Lee said in an interview with KHOU 11 News. "It reopened the wound I had, you know?"
The Harris County medical examiner took possession of the remains Tuesday afternoon and Lee did not have to personally identify the body.
Lee, his attorneys, and an expert hired to inspect the grave allege that the cement vault used to protect the casket was not sealed properly and did not have the required holes in the bottom to let water go in and out and keep the casket in the ground in the event of a flood. Legal counsel for Lee say they did not initially receive assistance from the church, which owns the cemetery, when they asked for a chance to inspect the gravesite. Monday, Lee filed an injunction asking that all evidence be undisturbed until a full investigation of the gravesite and surrounding graves be conducted. They allege that other graves may have the same problem.
You can hear more of our exclusive interview with Richard Lee and his attorneys on KHOU 11 News at 6 as they seek answers from Riceville Mt. Olive Baptist Church and the funeral home involved, Robinson Funeral Home from Silsbee, Texas.
Meanwhile Geo. H. Lewis & Sons Funeral Directors heard about the incident and has offered their services at no charge to rebury Fobbs-Lee in her original resting place. "We are honored to take part in returning Mrs. Lee to her final resting place and hope that this small act of humanity in some way brings comfort to her family," John B. Onstott with Geo. H. Lewis & Sons said in a written statement.