The Long County Commission on Wednesday made a special allowance so Sgt. Stefan M. Smith could be buried at his home in Long County.
“That was clearly the toughest meeting that we have had as commissioners. The family shed tears in it. I shed tears, and I think everyone who was in there shed some tears,” Commission Chairman Robert Long said.
Smith, a 3rd Infantry Division soldier serving in Afghanistan, was killed July 23 when enemy forces attacked his unit with an improvised explosive device. First Lt. Jonam Russell, 25, and Spc. Rob L. Nichols, 24, also were killed in the attack.
Smith’s wife, Kristi Smith, requested permission from the Long County Code Enforcement Office to allow the soldier to be buried at the couple’s rural home on Stewart Hodges Loop. Code Enforcement Officer Steve Adkins said that a burial on private property violates the Long County Land Development Code, and he told Kristi Smith that the county commission would have to allow a variance in this instance.
During Wednesday’s meeting, the variance was approved, 3-1, with 3rd District Commissioner Willie Thompson voting against it and 4th District Commissioner Kent Hall abstaining from the vote.
Thompson said that, personally, he had no objection to the soldier being buried at home, but as a commissioner, he had to do what he felt was in the county’s best interest.
“It hurt my heart to have to vote no to this,” Thompson said. “I feel for this family tremendously, but I have to cast my vote as a county commissioner, and I think that approving this opens too many cans of worms.”
Hall said he abstained from the vote for personal reasons.
Long, 1st District Commissioner Gerald Blocker and 5th District Commissioner Dwight Gordon voted to approve the variance.
Tony Mullis, Kristi Smith’s father, said he and his daughter appreciate the commissioners allowing his son-in-law to be buried on his daughter’s three-acre site.
“Before Stefan ever left for Afghanistan, he said that if something happened to him, he wanted to be buried at home so that he would always be with Kristi and the kids,” Mullis said. “Every heart in there was hurting for my daughter and her kids, and I can’t say enough to thank the commissioners for what they did.”
Long said that the variance primarily was approved because the funeral is today and, considering the time constraints, the commission had to act quickly.
“We will be looking at the land-development code closer and seeing what we need to do to address requests such as this,” Long said, “but until we do resolve it, we won’t be allowing any more variances like this.”