A 74-yar-old man helping his wife decorate her mother's tombstone with religious ornaments for Easter died when the huge stone toppled forward and crushed him.

Stephan Woytack, from Scranton, Pennsylvania, was visiting Saint Joseph's Cemetery in Throop, Lackawanna County with his wife yesterday (30 March) when the tragedy occurred.

A caretaker for the cemetery, Ed Kubilus, said some stones become unstable during spring as thawing earth can make the base of tombstones unstable.

Mr Kubilus, who knew the couple well, told the Times-Tribune he fixes about five toppled or tipping stones each year but the ground was too soft to repair them so far this year.

"They tie a cross to it every year, the both of them," Kubilus told WNEP-TV. "And after they're done tying the cross to it, they stand there, say prayers, and then they leave."

Mrs Woytack ran to fetch the caretaker at the other side of the cemetery when the tombstone toppled, Kubilus said. After calling police he tried to lift the stone, but it weighed an estimated 3-400 pounds. By the time police arrived it was too late.

Mrs Woytack said her husband was a kind, loving man who was involved with the local church. "It happened so quickly," she said.

The caretaker said the couple had recently arranged to have their own grave plots right next to Mrs Woytack's mother's site.

Diocese of Scranton Bishop Joseph Bambera said in a statement: "It is unimaginable to think that a visit of a faithful couple to the grave of loved ones in anticipation of the celebration of Easter could have ended in such a tragic manner. Our thoughts and prayers are with the deceased and his family."