Burial costs skyrocketed after large corporations bought up nearly half the cemeteries in our area. Today the heads of those corporations met with state lawmakers to answer allegations of price-gouging.
Listen toauorRealAudiofiles. "It is apparent that there are consumers out there that are being gouged like I don't know what," said state Rep. Howard Hunter of Northampton County.
State lawmakers echo the same charge that's being made by grieving families. A 5 News Investigation introduced you to Teresa Wilkins, whose son Brian died in a school bus accident. Wilkins bought five plots in Lumbee Gardens Cemetery, planning for her family to be buried with Brian one day. She was shocked to learn that burial prices almost doubled after a Canadian company bought the cemetery.
"If my husband were to die tomorrow, I wouldn't bury him there," Wilkins said.
Today a legislative subcommittee led by state Rep. Cary Allred asked company officials to explain why burial costs have doubled, and in some cases, tripled, since the large corporations took over.
Armed with pie charts and statistics, company officials failed to find sympathy from the commission.
"It is unfair to take all of those things and say all you do is dig a grave," said David Whiteside of the Stuart Company.
Deputy Attorney General Alan Hirsch says current law is written protect consumers from price-gouging. The AG's office can respond to complaints, but can't regulate costs. Hirsch acknowledges that grieving families are in a vulnerable position, and suggests they might benefit from state regulation of burial costs.
"If you go to the grocery store and they say, I'm going to sell you this tomato juice, unless you buy an apple, that's not very successful because you can always go to the next grocery store down the road," Hirsch said. "That's not the way with the cemetery business."
Rep. Cary Allred, who convened today's hearing, believes state regulation is the answer. He hopes to introduce legislation that would break the large corporations' monopoly on burial costs by opening grave digging to competition.