Aurora Seeks To Ban Backyard Burials

Councilwoman Wants To Limit Burials To Cemeteries Only; Colorado Allows Private Burials At Home

When a loved one is laid to rest, it might be a surprise that they won't necessarily be buried in a cemetery.

In Colorado, a burial can practically take place anywhere in the state, as long as it's not federal land.

The Aurora city council is discussing limiting burials to just cemeteries and no longer back yards. The topic was on the agenda for Monday for discussion.

"I want to avoid problems in the future," said Aurora City Councilwoman Renie Peterson. "Let's say, for instance, you were going to put in a new garage; you dig up the past homeowners' remains of their loved one and then you're calling the police. I think this could just avoid that kind of problem in the future."

7NEWS wanted to know how often homeowners have found human remains while trying to make home improvements.

"Have you been approached by a constituent who said I just tried to build a garage and found a dead body?" asked 7NEWS reporter Marshall Zelinger.

"Never," said Peterson.

"Is this a wasted discussion? Are there better things to be talking about right now than this?" asked Zelinger.

"No, I believe being proactive about this for the city of Aurora is a good idea," said Peterson.

Backyard Burials Could Tax Resources

Peterson said she also wants to limit burials to avoid adding more expenses to the city budget.

"How many people are we going to be required to have to go out and make sure that they dug the ground sufficiently? (That) they went deep enough?" said Peterson.

"It's becoming more expensive. People are becoming cash strapped, so it's a lot cheaper to bury someone in the back yard," said Douglas County Chief Deputy Coroner Chris Herndon.

Herndon is also on the board of the Colorado Coroner's Association. Last year, the CCA helped pass a state law that requires documentation when someone is buried privately.

Private Burial Requires GPS Specific Affidavit

The affidavit must be signed by the sheriff, coroner and/or two witnesses and requires:

  • Deceased name, birth date, cause of death
  • Property owner's name
  • Legal description of the property
  • Global Positioning System (GPS) location of burial site

"We could prevent us spending three and four days at someone's house, in their back yard, if we already knew that it was grandma in the back yard instead of a clandestine grave," said Herndon.

Recently in El Paso County, a homeowner found human remains after a heavy rainstorm. That find led to an investigation. According to state Sen. Linda Newell, D-Littleton -- who co-sponsored the private burial documentation law -- that investigation cost $2 million just to find out the remains were from a burial.

"Those kinds of investigations are very time consuming. You have to be very careful how you dig up things. Things have to be sifted. It takes a long time," said Herndon.

"(Is it a) waste of resources when you have to do that and you find out that it's a burial?" asked Zelinger.

"No, because we want to make sure that we do our job properly," said Herndon.

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