TARPON SPRINGS, FLA. (WFLA) — Margie Bridges just wants to honor her recently deceased father, William Bridges, with a headstone, but she can’t understand why the City of Tarpon Springs said no.
She turned to Better Call Behnken for answers, and 8 On Your Side Investigator Shannon Behnken uncovered an old city regulation that city leaders said gives them no choice but to deny the daughter’s request to put up a headstone at the city-owned Cycadia Cemetery.
“All I want to do is put a rock on that grave,” Bridges said. “That’s it. I just want his name, and the fact that he’s a World War II veteran carved for everyone to know how special he was.”
But unless Tarpon Springs steps up to change or make an exception to an old city regulation, Bridges will have to get a court order.
The problem? Tarpon Springs requires “the owner” of the gravesite to give permission for the headstone. Mr. Bridges did not have a will, so there is no executor of the estate to make that decision.
Bridges said she has consulted with lawyers and going through probate could cost her thousands of dollars just in order to be able to buy the $1,200 headstone. Bridges said this is a slap in the face and that her father didn’t know this when he bought his burial plot years ago, and he wasn’t warned more recently.
She said her father was careful to transfer his house, car and bank accounts into her name but would have never thought to transfer the right to the burial plot.
“At 17, he enlisted,” Bridges said. “He fought. He was on the beaches of Normandy, and on the day he died, he had shrapnel in his chest. He fought for this country and now fighting for him to be recognized.”
City leaders, at first, explained this is just the way it’s done in Tarpon Springs, and there’s no way around Bridges going through the court system now.
That leaves Mr. Bridges with just a plastic marker. In fact, the plastic marker, made by a funeral home, misspells his name as “Williams” Bridges.
Tarpon Springs City Attorney Thomas Trask explained to Better Call Behnken that the regulation in place is to protect the city from potential legal trouble down the road if another family member disagreed with the wording on the headstone.
Trask is the city attorney for nearby Dunedin as well, but city staff there said they do not have similar rules.
“If a family wants to put up a headstone, as long as it fits in with the cemetery, they can put up a headstone,” a manager told Investigator Shannon Behnken. “We’ve never had anyone come back later and dispute what’s on a headstone.”
Behnken asked Tarpon Springs for examples of past headstone disputes there, but none were provided.
Tarpon Spring Mayor Chris Alahouzos said he supports the rule because he believes it protects the city, and most people have wills that would name an executor of the estate.
“How would we know what he wants on his tombstone?” he said,
Behnken suggested they start with the veteran’s name, date of death and date of birth.
City Commissioner Jacob Karr was the only other city commissioner who responded to interview requests, and he said he did not know of such a city regulation, and he thought it was possibly “outdated.”
“I think everyone has a right to a headstone, no mater who they are,” Karr said. “He served in World War II. He needs to be respected, as soon as we can.”
Karr said he plans to ask the commission to hold a workshop to review all of the city cemetery regulations and see if updates are needed. He also said he’ll ask if an exemption can be made since the cemetery’s own regulations mention an exemption can be made in certain circumstances.
Meanwhile, Better Call Behnken was able to connect Margie Bridges with a funeral home that specializes in veteran funeral care so that a free veteran marker can be ordered through the US government.
Tarpon Springs’ city manager said that type of marker will not be contested because it is provided by the government.