By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter
CHEHALIS – Christina Kelley’s uncle died yesterday and she was asked by her aunt to handle his burial arrangements.
He owns a plot with six graves in Centralia, and wants to be put to rest there, where his grandson and mother-in-law already slumber beneath the ground.
However, the grave is inside Greenwood Cemetery, a memorial park caught in legal limbo.
Kelley, who lives in Monroe, said she couldn’t reach cemetery owner John Baker, who she’s been told is barred from his home, which doubles as a cemetery office.
Kelley spoke with Jennifer Duncan, the woman who served as temporary caretaker while Baker spent time in prison last year. Duncan told her that although she currently holds the license to make burials, she’s banned by court order from the property.
“The immediate problem, is we’ve got a family member who needs to be buried,” Kelley said on Monday. “If I could go dig the hole myself, I would.”
It’s a problem, Kelly said, as she made a round of phone calls looking for a solution.
Her uncle, Charles L. Sticklin, a 1959 graduate of Centralia High School, is a grandson of the cemetery’s founder, she said.
He’s been in and out of the hospital for the past month, and his heart finally gave out Monday morning, she said. He died in a veterans hospital in Meridian, Idaho, she said.
Kelley contacted the state cemetery board and was told they can’t help her, she said.
Joe Vincent, the administrator of the state Funeral and Cemetery Board, confirmed that Duncan as the licensee, is the only individual allowed to authorize burials, but the property rights of Baker somehow “carry more weight than burial rights.”
Duncan and Baker were in court in late August, when Lewis County Court Commissioner Tracy Mitchell gave Duncan 30 more days of an anti-harassment order keeping Baker out of the park in order for Duncan to wrap up obligations she’d made to cemetery clients.
The longtime friends were feuding and Baker said he wanted her to stop managing his cemetery.
Baker today when he learned of Sticklin’s death, said the cemetery will “doubly” bend over backwards to make sure he gets interred.
“I think I have the authority to open and close graves, as owner,” Baker said. It’s a different kind of authority than that the state licensing board conveys, he said.
While he is prohibited from living in his house, because, he claims, Duncan let his utility bills go in arrears and the electricity was shut off, he’s around there in the daytime and has a new phone number, he said.
If Duncan would “bow out” he’d get someone else to make burials, he said.
Baker obtained a temporary anti-harassment order on Oct. 31 prohibiting Duncan from coming within 500 feet of the cemetery, his home and office.
Meanwhile, Duncan is doing what she can, and hoping she can bury Kelley’s uncle.
Sticklin owns the grave and had previously paid for the burial expenses, according to Duncan.
Tomorrow, Baker will be sentenced for several violations of her anti-harassment order, as well as stalking and trespassing at the cemetery, and Duncan is going to ask that she be allowed to continue making burials until her license expires at the end of January, she said.
She expects part of Baker’s sentence will include him being prohibited from coming within 300 feet of her, as she is the stalking victim.
She’ll be in court tomorrow at 1:30 p.m.
“I’ll bring it up, it’s the perfect time to bring it up,” Duncan said.
Also, Vincent of the cemetery board said yesterday, that last week he signed and delivered a statement of charges against Baker for past issues.
“He’s looking at multiple sanctions by the board,” Vincent said.
Read background here:
• “Conflict: Who will bury the dead in Greenwood Cemetery?” from Friday September 2, 2011, here
• “Cemeterian Baker charged with stalking caretaker Duncan” from Friday September 23, 2011, here