Friday, February 27, 2009

When Government Reaches Beyond the Grave

Two years ago this month, my Gart Wilson nightmare began.  It shows no sign of going away. 

Perhaps it is unfair to blame the late Mr. Wilson for my nightmare.  He did nothing personally to wreak havoc on me and a thousand other people, but his name always appears in the reference line of the legal correspondence that I receive regularly.

Gart Wilson was an ordinary man.  His obituary reported that he was a Methodist, an army veteran, a long-time employee of General Motors, and that he had enjoyed his 73 years of life.  His cause of death was cancer. 

In the summer of 2006, the City of Willoughby, Ohio began mapping its landscape under a grant by the U. S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS).  The mapping contractor used sophisticated equipment to photograph structures and locate them with global positioning coordinates.  The mapping crews even carried Geiger counters during their surveys.  And all it took was one faint radiation reading to transform Gart Wilson into an extraordinary man.

Gart Wilson was interred in the Mt. Zion Mausoleum in Willoughby.  He was also entombed with the radioactive pellets that doctors had implanted to treat his prostate cancer.

With the news that the mausoleum was (ever so slightly) radioactive, DHS ordered FEMA to assess the building.  FEMA immediately sought a condemnation order in common pleas court where it hit a roadblock.  Since only Mr. Wilson’s niche showed measurable radioactivity, Mt. Zion’s attorney argued that it would be improper to condemn the entire structure and its remaining 299 safe niches.

FEMA’s attorneys were not to be denied this mission, however.  They countered that, because the corpses would dwell, or reside, for the foreseeable future in marked and individual spaces, the mausoleum therefore met the definition of a condominium under state law.  FEMA continued along this line arguing further that Ohio law allowed for the condemnation of such a contaminated residential structure.  In October 2006, Judge Jared Garrity ruled in FEMA’s favor which cleared the way for the mausoleum’s razing.

Before Mt. Zion could appeal Garrity’s decision to the Supreme Court of Ohio, the Environmental Protection Agency entered the fray.  The EPA muscled the case into federal court to protest FEMA’s jurisdiction.  The EPA won. 

The EPA then pursued a divide-and-conquer strategy.  The agency argued that the condominium’s owners (the deceased) should pay for the cost of the cleanup because each condo owner died with a valid will instructing his or her executor to pay for all burial and funeral costs.  The EPA reasoned that the lineal descendents of anyone interred in the mausoleum should pay for their ancestor’s share of damages.  In cases where there are no lineal descendents, then the deceased should be treated as intestate to determine next of kin.

Lo and behold, federal judge Henry Bemis swallowed this tripe!  In his decision, he declared that dead had not had their final burial.  The Mt. Zion Mausoleum, he wrote, had simply been a way station, a “Traveler’s Rest” he waxed eloquent, on their final journey.

This is where I entered the picture.  My mother’s youngest sister, Millicent, and her husband, Paul Radin, were childless “condo owners.”  Thus, as her nephew, I appear on the list of Aunt Millie’s kinfolk. 

Including me, there are 1,271 heirs (so far) named as defendants in this case.  We have come to calling ourselves the Royal Family, as in the royal “we.”

In August 2007, EPA hired Pinco Environmental Services of Youngstown to demolish the mausoleum.  Part 1 of the contract covered removing the non-radioactive rubble and debris and transporting it to a landfill some fifty miles distant.  Part 2 of the contract covered removing the caskets and all radioactive material, placing everything in special steel containers, and transporting the lot to Hanford Reservation in Washington.

Though paid in full, Pinco performed only Part 1 of the contract.  The caskets and radioactive debris were removed from the site and placed in special containers, but the containers never made it to Hanford. 

Pinco, we have since learned, was operated by two ex-cons—Pinto Sykes and Conny Miller.  Nobody knows the whereabouts of the duo and the $17 million of EPA’s money they collected for this job, but the caskets (still in their steel containers) were discovered last fall in a Cleveland warehouse.

The Royal Family just wants this travesty to end.  Generally, we want the dogs called off and our relatives re-interred at Mt. Zion.  We desire, of course, to be reimbursed for our legal expenses.  But in talking with others in the “family”, I sense this monetary demand is not a deal-breaker. 

The EPA, however, refuses to settle under any terms and has even indicated that it expects to defend itself against a countersuit by the Royal Family.  And until that happens, the EPA’s general counsel has said the agency has no intention of releasing the caskets.

We, the members of the Royal Family, have learned the hard way that the government will outlive us all and just like the Mt. Zion dead, perhaps more than once.

This is a hoax!  All character names are from various "Twilight Zone" episodes, as is the town name Willoughby.  Neither Gart Wilson nor this Willoughby exist.