Funeral vault company reacts to discrimination case - New York News

Discrimination case against Detroit funeral vault company has families wondering about their loved ones

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By: M.L. Elrick

(WJBK) --It's been a week since Fox 2 Problem Solver M.L. Elrick exposed a troubling situation at a local shop, American Eagle Precast. The report investigated allegations of racial discrimination and claims that defective funeral vaults were sent to black cemeteries.

Now a former employee of that shop and black funeral home operators are speaking out. The owner of the shop is also defending his company.

VIDEO: Watch Elrick's latest report in the video player above, or read the transcript below

__________________


WALLACE WILLIAMS ((OF MICHIGAN SELECT FUNERAL DIRECTORS)): Families are starting to call us and wonder: is my grandmother in a defective vault? Do we have to dig her up to find out?

This is just one of the questions families and funeral home operators are asking about burial vaults from American Eagle Precast after we aired this recording last week.

((RECORDING FROM PREVIOUS STORY))
NORMAN MEYERS: Where some of those cases going to?
CO-WORKER: Black cemeteries, Detroit West.
MEYERS: Suppose it don't matter, huh. Marty said that these don't matter, huh?
CO-WORKER: It don't matter Norman, to them. They'll take anything.
CO-WORKER 2: If it's going to white chapel it's got to be good.
MEYERS: Okay. And what's white chapel?
CO-WORKER 2: The white cemetery.

And now, a former American Eagle employee is adding a new twist to this case.

DARRYL BUNKLEY: I have seen faulty vaults. I have seen 'em say, hurry up and patch it up because it's got to go now.

Funeral vaults are cement boxes set in graves to protect coffins and the remains of your loved ones, but Darryl Bunkley says American Eagle sent defective vaults to black and white cemeteries.

M.L. ELRICK TO BUNKLEY: And so some defective vaults did go to white cemeteries?
BUNKLEY: Yes, some did go to white cemeteries. But a lot of them were caught, you know, there.

Detroit Memorial Park is a predominantly black cemetery association. They say they, too, closely inspect burial vaults. They say they never accept faulty vaults but they have suspended their business with American Eagle pending the outcome of an investigation.

Now, American Eagle owner Marty Begun is breaking his silence to defend his company.

BEGUN: My grandfather started the business in 1928. We haven't been in business for 85 years if we sent out defective products. There's just no way that we could do that. And I'm very proud and confident of the quality of our product.

But black funeral home operators are also concerned about working conditions at American Eagle. I reported last week that employee Norman Meyers is suing the company because a statue was allowed to hang in the shop for four months.

DAVID AKINS ((OF WILSON AKINS FUNERAL HOME)): We have a certain moral obligation to speak up about the discrimination that has occurred and the way that this African American employee has been treated.

Begun addressed that issue, too.

BEGUN: I understand that there are some things about the story that are very, very troubling. And I am as upset as anybody. I wish that Norman had come to me, or that somebody had come to me and told me about it, because I would have put a stop to it.

It's not clear what will happen next, and that's got families throughout metro Detroit concerned about the condition of their loved ones' remains.

BUNKLEY: I kinda wonder, is my mother and father buried in [defective] vaults? What do you do?

ELRICK TO WILLIAMS: Is there any way to find out if a vault is defective once it's in the ground?
WILLIAMS: Not without digging it up, no.

M.L. ELRICK, FOX 2 NEWS.

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