Originally created 09/19/06

Bones came from grave dirt



A human jawbone and spine found in a pile of dirt at the Arts in the Heart of Augusta festival probably came from an unmarked grave at a city cemetery after fill dirt from the cemetery was used to level off potholes in the gravel lot across from Augusta Common.

City Administrator Fred Russell called the use of the graveyard dirt a "bad decision" and said the city is looking into correcting the problem.

Authorities initially did not know what they had on their hands Sunday when a festival-goer spotted the bones.

Richmond County sheriff's Sgt. Richard Roundtree said they have since ruled out conducting a criminal investigation.

The dirt was tracked back to a pile that the Augusta-Richmond County Trees and Landscaping Department maintains at West View Cemetery at 2051 Division St., Sgt. Roundtree said.

"Upon tracking the origin, we went to West View and we found a dirt pile that also had some remains scattered about in the pile," he said.

He said it's possible that the dirt and bones came from Cedar Grove Cemetery at 120 Watkins St. and were being stored at West View, but could not say for sure where the bones originated.

Richmond County Coroner Grover Tuten on Monday identified the bones as human and said they appear to be more than 60 years old, although he could not be sure of their date. Authorities do not know to whom the remains belong, but Dereck Vanover, the assistant director of trees and landscaping, said his department will return the bones to their proper place as soon as possible.

"Ideally, we would like to identify it and find out where it belongs, but it looks like it came from some sort of unmarked grave in that cemetery," Mr. Vanover said.

He said officials at the Arts in the Heart festival asked his department for dirt at the last minute to fill in the potholes before the festival. A staff member decided to use the excess dirt at West View, which is left over after bodies are buried in a city graveyard. Mr. Vanover said the dirt usually remains in the cemetery and is used as fill for erosion.

It is typically left next to a fresh grave for 10 days after a burial to settle, he said. Each time it's dumped, the dirt is watched for bone fragments. If something is discovered, the remains are put back into their original burial place. Although they were dumped three times, no one noticed the remains, Mr. Vanover said.

"It's unfortunate that it happened," he said. "Our staff's very discouraged about it."

Reach Adam Folk at (706) 823-3339 or adam.folk@augustachronicle.com.

WHAT'S NEXT:

City Administrator Fred Russell said the age of the cemetery and a lack of proper records prevent the bones from being identified. They will be taken to Cedar Grove Cemetery to be properly buried, he said.