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Family Sues Lafayette Cemetery For $3.2M Over Vandalism

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The family of Thomas Gonzales II built a mausoleum at the Oakmont Cemetery in Lafayette. (CBS)

The family of Thomas Gonzales II built a mausoleum at the Oakmont Cemetery in Lafayette. (CBS)

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LAFAYETTE (CBS SF) — A family is seeking justice more than a year after their son’s remains were stolen from a $3.2 mausoleum due to an alleged security breach at a Lafayette cemetery.

The family of late Bay Area software entrepreneur Thomas Gonzales II built a marble mausoleum at Lafayette’s Oakmont Cemetery to honor his memory, and were devastated when thieves made off with an urn containing his remains in January 2011.

On Tuesday, the Gonzales’s sued the cemetery’s corporate owners, StoneMor, Inc., for $3.2 million after discovering that a break-in attempt at the mausoleum just days before the theft went unreported by the cemetery, said Harvey Stein, the family’s attorney.

A spokeswoman for StoneMor on Wednesday said the cemetery operator is aware of the litigation but declined to comment further.

Gonzales died at 35 in 2001 after an eight-month bout with gastric cancer. Years earlier, the Bay Area native co-founded the Pleasanton-based Internet firm Commerce One with his father, Thomas Gonzales, Sr.

Stein said the late entrepreneur’s estate funded the design and construction of a 25-foot white marble mausoleum that would one day house not only his remains, but those of other family members.

The building bears the family’s name and features two spiral staircases leading up to a platform with “probably the best view of all of Contra Costa County,” the attorney said.

But for the family, the elegant building lost its value after Jan. 18, 2011, when someone broke in and stole the polished brass urn containing Gonzales’s ashes.

Police were unable to locate the urn or the suspects involved, even after the family offered a reward for information.

“No monetary value will be enough to compensate the family for the pain caused by this tragedy. The sadness of Thomas’s early death is only compounded by the desecration of his tomb,” Stein said in a statement.

The family was even more disturbed when a police report of the theft revealed that an Oakmont groundskeeper had noticed a break-in attempt at the mausoleum a few days prior to the theft. The cemetery never contacted the Gonzales family or the police to report the burglary attempt, Stein said.

Had the family been informed of the incident, the attorney said, “they would have put a security guard there in a minute.”

Thomas Gonzales, Sr. said he can no longer bear the sight of the building that once housed his son’s remains.

“Now, the mausoleum has no value to my family,” he said in a prepared statement. “The sight of it causes my family so much pain and suffering, we think it’s only right for Oakmont to be held accountable.”

(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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