Families shocked to find homeless camps built on graves in troubled cemetery

There’s renewed hope for families whose loved ones are buried at Sunset Memorial Park in Pearl City.

It comes at a time when we saw more problems at the troubled cemetery.

KHON2 went back there Thursday after a viewer asked us to check on the facility. For years, we’ve reported on the problems with disrepair and maintenance.

There were sunken graves, stolen urns, and after we finally got a hold of the person in charge, Rev. Lago Dozinn, broken promises. Dozinn told us he’d fix the problems if we gave him a chance. That was over a year ago.

Now, state lawmakers have a plan to make the cemetery right once and for all. We’re told that a bill in the works at the state Legislature and has a good chance of passing.

There are people who do want to help, so the focus now is on busting through roadblocks that are preventing that from happening. It would provide much-needed relief, especially after what we saw Thursday.

Malia Pomele and her family were in disbelief when they visited the cemetery a couple of days ago. A group of homeless people had set up camp over the graves of their father, uncle, and their aunt.

“No respect for the dead,” Pomele said.

“It’s sad. We’re very heartbroken,” said James Aliksa, who has family buried at the cemetery. “I can’t stand seeing this thing happen. We trust the people that run this place.”

There’s been the constant problem of maintaining the cemetery in general, with overgrown weeds and piles of trash that are left uncollected.

There’s a group of volunteers who call themselves Friends of Sunset Memorial who want to help.

“To see it like this now is heartbreaking. It’s really heartbreaking,” said Darrell Salvador of Friends of Sunset Memorial.

But they can’t do anything because of liability issues.

Rep. Gregg Takayama, public safety committee chairman, says he plans to introduce a bill to address that, as well as get the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs to put together a long-term plan for the cemetery, and allow the state to tap into the cemetery’s trust fund.

We’ve learned that there’s about $200,000 in the cemetery’s trust fund, which should help clean it up, but in the long-run, those who are involved tell us that’s not going to be enough to maintain the entire cemetery.

“We know that because of the size and the magnitude of the problems at Sunset Memorial that $200,000 is not going to solve the problem. That’s why we’re calling on the State to come up with a long-range plan for what we should be doing with Sunset Memorial,” said Takayama.

A similar bill was proposed last year and didn’t pass. So why would this one?

Takayama says he has lobbied other legislators to let them know that this new bill can address problems with other cemeteries.

“We’re hoping that perhaps this bill, if it’s enacted into law, can serve as a model, because we know that in the future that other cemeteries in Hawaii may have a similar problem,” Takayama said.

Families and volunteers like Salvador are optimistic. He himself has five generations of family members buried there.

“At least now I can say that I can rest a little easier knowing that we’re starting to move, because it was stagnant for the longest of time,” Salvador said.

Takayama plans to introduce the bill by next week.

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