ATLANTA – Georgia lawmakers scrambled to propose new laws Monday to govern crematories and treatment of the dead after hundreds of decomposing corpses were found strewn about a north Georgia crematory.
Authorities believe more than 130 corpses taken to the Tri-State Crematory in Walker County for cremation were instead dumped in garages, vaults or the woods. Agents had recovered 130 bodies by late Monday and charged the operator, Ray Brent Marsh, with 16 counts of theft by deception.
The charges angered many families who used the crematory, who said they couldn't believe there isn't a law against dumping bodies and passing off ashes as human remains.
Lawmakers introduced two bills Monday that would specifically address the situation.
One would make it a felony to "abuse or abandon" a corpse, and the other would require state inspection of all crematories, even those that don't work directly with the public, such as Tri-State Crematory.
Under current law, it is illegal to desecrate a grave site or coffin, but not an actual corpse. Most of the corpses found stuffed into vaults at the Noble crematory probably never had grave sites or coffins to desecrate.
"This is an absolute abomination," said Democratic Rep. Mike Snow, who lives only a few miles from the crematory in Chickamauga.
Snow, chairman of the House Public Safety Committee, met with Gov. Roy Barnes Monday morning to decide what new bills are needed in light of the discovery.
Democratic leaders said they want to add money in the next budget to pay for more inspectors for crematories. Georgia has only two inspectors responsible for 756 funeral homes and crematories.
"I don't see how two inspectors could possibly do the job," Snow said.
All three proposals discussed Monday were embraced by the GOP, said House Republican Leader Lynn Westmoreland.
"Just when you think you have everything legislated, something like this happens. You would just never think somebody could knowingly do this in the name of money," he said.
Rep. Chuck Sims, D-Douglas, is one of three funeral directors in the Legislature and said stricter state oversight of the whole industry is a good idea.
"In the end, all you have as a funeral home or a crematory is your integrity," he said. "People just have to trust that you're treating their loved ones like they're your loved ones, too.
"So anything we can do to assure the public of all the compassionate people in this business, who do the right thing by everybody, I would wholeheartedly support that," Sims said.