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A stolen vehicle caused damage to 10 headstones and markers at the Old Kingsport Presbyterian Church Cemetery, with debris littering the grounds — including pieces from the car and a white Nike sneaker.

The individual who drove a stolen Chevrolet Impala through one of the oldest cemeteries in Kingsport at about 3 a.m. recently may not have done so with intention. Nonetheless, headstones and markers were damaged, an abominable crime and a terrible thing for any surviving relatives to see.

The car is owned by a Church Hill woman who told police she was selling it when a man took it for a test drive and never returned. A Kingsport officer saw the car pull out of a motel on Lynn Garden Drive with no headlights and a broken taillight. He gave pursuit, but the car fled on West Stone Drive toward Hawkins County, and the officer wisely did not follow it.

It appears the driver traveled a short distance along West Stone, exited onto Mary Street and then went off the roadway and into the Old Kingsport Presbyterian Church cemetery. Police were notified and found the car in the cemetery along with a pair of white sneakers and debris from the vehicle strewn among the damaged headstones. A K-9 dog picked up the scent through the cemetery but lost it near Jennings Drive.

We’ve no doubt this person will be caught. He appears to be local and can be identified. It’s just a matter of time, though he can do himself the most good by surrendering.

The church, formerly known as the Boatyard Congregation, is the oldest in Kingsport and celebrating its 200th anniversary, having organized May 20, 1820. It originally met in a log structure formerly located in the cemetery. The Rev. Dr. Frederick A. Ross, a former owner of Rotherwood Mansion, was minister from 1826 to 1852, and under his leadership the church grew rapidly. Ross financed construction of the current church building in 1845 and donated the large brass bell made in New York that still calls people to worship.

The church is planning to contact a monument company that has straightened headstones in the past to see about repairs, said Elder Eugene Harris. “It just devastates you that someone would do that,” Harris said. At least one of the headstones will have to be replaced since it was broken into several pieces. The church will file a claim with its insurance company to have the headstones repaired and replaced, Harris said.

Last month in South Carolina, a local man stepped up when several gravestones were toppled and vandalized at Siloam Baptist Church cemetery in Powdersville. He used a cleaner and a power washer to take graffiti off the headstones, but severe damage to headstones can occur when well-intentioned individuals clean them.

The last thing you want to use on a headstone is a power washer, or a wire brush, or cleaners such as bleach.

CemeteryConservatorsunited standards.org offers information on how to properly clean headstones, and it would be a wonderful public service if some local folks with time on their hands educated themselves on the proper process and, with permission, set about cleaning headstones in our older cemeteries.