City leaders in Choctaw work to correct burial mistake

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CHOCTAW, Okla. (KFOR) – A burial gone wrong has led to City of Choctaw officials opening discussions to make sure similar errors never happen again.

Earlier this year, a man was placed to rest in the wrong burial plot at a Choctaw cemetery.

More tracking and better communication were the gist of what two Choctaw councilpersons pushed for at a town hall Sunday night, fully sympathizing for the pain the burial mix-up caused.

In their grief and mourning, Andrea Derksen and her family buried her father, Rodney Derksen, at Elmwood Cemetery on Jan. 15. 

The next day, they were told he was buried in the wrong plot, a plot that another family was about to bury their loved one in.

That other family had previously marked off the plot for Russell McGee. As a result, the Derksens then had to unbury Rodney.

“It was terrible,” Andrea expressed. “Our hearts were breaking. You bury them and you think you’re putting them to rest and find out it’s not at rest. It was really hard. It’s difficult to know that a mistake on top of the pain can cause that much uncertainty.”

Her father was buried after his unburial. Andrea did not attend the reburial.

“It was too fresh,” she expressed of her pain over the situation. “We just wanted to let the new site be rested and then see him at rest later.” 

Andrea attended the Sunday night town hall that largely focused on making sure this type of burial error doesn’t happen again. 

Choctaw Councilwoman Donna Morris suggested the city implement a comprehensive checklist system for the cemetery, which the city runs. 

“A checklist that will incorporate the entities of the city, the funeral homes, and the vault companies to work together to make sure all the metadata, maps, burial plots, mowing frequencies, point of contact information, et cetera have clarity,” she said of the plan. “I do think that will help with accuracy, respectfulness and beautification.”

She also was fond of a suggestion that burial plots clearly display the name of who is meant to buried there.

“When the gentleman brought up that idea, I think it’s excellent,” she said. “It will be a part of the checklist and it will be mandatory. That is something extremely easy that we can do. Simple solutions work.”

Many left the town hall on an optimistic note. 

“I feel hopeful because knowing that it’s such a simple mistake that can be avoidable,” Andrea said. “It’s got to be that way. We deserve that. The community deserves that for their loved ones.”

The councilpersons present Sunday said they’ll give their proposed solutions to the Choctaw city clerk and city manager and expect them to be formally discussed at a council meeting in the coming weeks.

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