Family Could Be Cited for Burying Baby in Backyard

A Berks County couple that buried their 10-month-old son in their backyard because they couldn’t afford a burial plot could be cited for zoning violations.

James and Chantal Dodson buried their son Jesse in the backyard of their home in Colebrookdale Township last summer.

James told the Reading Eagle that when his infant son died in August of a congenital liver condition he and his wife had more than $30,000 in medical bills. A $650 burial plot was not high on the list of things they could afford.

The Dodsons, though, cited not only money but also their strong Christian faith and a desire to keep their son near as the reason for burying Jesse in the backyard.

"In his short little life he taught me so much," Chantal told NBC Philadelphia's Cydney Long.

"We wanted to ability to go back and visit the gravesite anytime we wanted to," James said.

But after burying their son on their five-acre property, the Dodsons face zoning violations from the township.

The commissioners in Colebrookdale Township, about 35 miles northwest of Philadelphia, said the Dodson family needs a zoning variance in case they move and want to come back to visit the boy's grave. The commissioners say the burial constitutes a zoning violation that could result in daily fines.

The Dodsons could face hundreds in fines.

The Dodsons asked the board in December to consider waiving the zoning fee. This week, the board voted to issue a citation, saying that the couple had plenty of time to resolve the issue. The penalty could be up to $500 a day, according to the Reading Eagle.

But the decision doesn't mean that the Dodson's will be getting a ticket.

"There has been no citation filed," said township solicitor Jeff Karver. "And the township is not inclined to file a citation because negotiations are ongoing."

“We need to identify the gravesite both on the property and also in the records in the courthouse," Karver said. "So that anybody who looks at property -- even if there's no headstone in years to come -- knows that there's a gravesite there."

The Dodsons said that they already marked the grave and are making a pathway to the site to help satisfy the township.

"We are willing to abide by the law," James said.

 The two sides are seemingly close to a resolution. But this case did prompt the township to change its ordinance to not allow residential burials moving forward.

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