An Alabama man has been found guilty of putting flowers on his fiancee’s grave.
Winchester Hagans, a student studying education and theology and the son of Evangelist Rick Hagans, was pulled over and arrested earlier this year while on his way to preach at church.
It was then he learned that there was an outstanding warrant for misdemeanor criminal littering.
His fiancé, 26-year-old Hannah Ford, was killed in a Jan. 17, 2021, because crash just hours after the newly engaged couple had visited their wedding venue.
The warrant was obtained by Ford’s father, with whom the couple had an estranged relationship.
Hagans, his family, and Ford’s family were in court Thursday.
Tom Ford, the father, testified during the hearing where he acknowledged he didn’t approve of their relationship, and said he had removed 10 boxes from the grave site.
City employee Sari Card tested that she told Hagans that Tom Ford didn’t want the boxes on the grave. “He said he didn’t care, that every time a box is removed, he would make another one to replace it.”
Municipal Judge Jim McLaughlin convicted Hagans saying the boxes were “a clear case of violation of this deed and violation of littering statute.”
Hagans was fined $50 plus a couple of hundred in courts costs. He also received a 30-day suspended jail sentence. His brother, Richard Hagans, said they plan to appeal the conviction and hope to get the case before a jury.
The complaint stemmed from a wooden planter box that Hagans built for Ford’s grave and decorated with pictures of her and them. The box was inscripted with the lyrics from ‘Of Crows and Crowns’ by Dustin Kensrue.
On the day he proposed, they had their favorite go-to lunch – a picnic of BLT sandwiches – at Callaway Gardens. He told her he really wanted to see the chapel there and it was beneath the stained-glass windows that he got down on one knee, with a hidden photographer to capture the moment.
‘Of Crows and Crowns’ was playing during the proposal and would have been their “first dance” song at their wedding.
They set a date for May 1, 2021 and got busy planning the wedding.
On the Sunday of Ford’s death, they visited Notasulga where Hagans’ father suggested they get married. It was a field with trees and a barn, and immediately they visualized the wedding happening there.
He went home to work on their wedding invitations and awaited her phone call.
When he didn’t hear from her, he called her roommate who was also concerned that Ford wasn’t home yet.
“My stomach just dropped. I grabbed my keys and ran out the door,” he said. “I pulled up Waze – calling everywhere there was a wreck. Nothing.”
He drove toward Montgomery and took the exit to his house. As he got close, he found the road closed and flashing police lights.
“I was telling myself, ‘This isn’t her,” he said.
He learned, however, that it was her.
“I just dropped to my knees, and I wailed,” Hagans said. “So much of that night is a blur.”
Hagans was not allowed to attend her funeral so he built the memorial at her grave, which he visited often.
Then, the memorial kept disappearing and he would replace it.
In December, which would have been their wedding month, Hagans was working as a long-term substitute teacher at an elementary school across the street from Memorial Park cemetery. He would spend his lunch breaks at Ford’s grave.
It was Jan. 23, 2022, when he got pulled over for an expired tag and found out about the warrant against him. The warrant stated that Hagans had place seven to eight flower boxes, described in the warrant as “unauthorized items” on Ford’s grave.
Auburn police released this statement shortly after the arrest: “In response to recent inquiries regarding an arrest for littering at a local cemetery: In Alabama, certain burial plots are owned and controlled by the family of the deceased and therefore are private property. Any citizen has the right to pursue a criminal charge against another upon showing that sufficient probable cause exists to believe that a crime has been committed. The individual charged in this case turned himself in to the Auburn Police Department on January 24th, 2022, after a warrant was signed by another citizen. In this situation, as is often the case, the Police Department is simply a process server that allows parties in conflict to be before the court. The facts of the case will be presented by both parties and weighed in Court.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.