By Jeremy D. Wells
Carter County Times
Candidates for Carter County Coroner, William Waddell (Democrat), and George Sparks (Republican), accepted an invitation from the Olive Hill Chamber of Commerce to take moderated questions from the public during the last regular meeting of the chamber.
Waddell, who operates Globe Funeral Chapel near Olive Hill and Grayson Funeral Home in Grayson, introduced himself first, thanking the Chamber for inviting him and detailing his experience in the community as a business owner, funeral director, and the incumbent coroner.
“It’s hard to believe eight years have already gone by, but is has,” Waddell said. “Since we’ve been in office we’ve (kept) an office in Grayson and an office in Olive Hill, with three coroner vehicles that we serve our people with.”
Because, he explained, “sometimes we have two or three calls going on at the same time.”
Sparks, who has served as coroner in the past, thanked the Chamber for the opportunity as well, telling the crowd his business would be celebrating 45 years serving the community this fall and noting that while finishing his education at the University of Cincinnati he worked for the Hamilton County coroner’s office as an assistant pathologist – an experience, he said, that was “invaluable” in his work as a funeral director and in his role as coroner, where he previously served for 16 years. Over that time, he said, he handled “thousands” of deaths, including several homicides, and served as an expert witness in those cases.
Moderator Lisa Messer-Conley said they had answered part of the first question already, but continued with asking the type of training and experience needed to be a coroner. Waddell detailed the state mandated training and continuing education needed, as well as the experience needed to determine cause of death while dealing with distraught family. The coroner also needed to determine if the body needed sent to the state coroner’s office for further examination, such as in the case of a shooting or other homicide, he said. In those cases, though the cause of death might seem apparent, the pathologist in Frankfort had to return the cause of death.
Sparks answered by defining the role of the coroner.
“The main role of the coroner is to define the time of death, the cause of death, and the manner of death,” he said. He continued by noting how important it was for families to receive those death certificates from the coroner in a timely manner.
If you’ve suffered a death in the family, he said, “you know how hard it is to carry on business, and settle the estate business, without a death certificate. You just can’t do it.”
While there are some circumstances that can delay that, he said, “most of the time it can be done in a timely manner.”
He also noted that coroners only respond when called, such as in instance of “sudden, violent, or unattended” deaths.
When questioned about the organizations the coroner’s office worked with Sparks focused on the law enforcement partners, who he said the coroner ideally worked with as “co-investigators.”
Waddell expanded on that, noting that in addition to law enforcement, his office worked closely with EMS, who sometimes made the coroner calls after responding, as well as the sheriff’s department or state police who were usually already on the scene.
For instance, Waddell said, in a car wreck the police would need to reconstruct the wreck. Then, he said, after they were finished, he would take his pictures and do his part of the investigation.
One of the submitted questions asked about materials, and who was responsible. While there are obvious costs like gloves and other personal protective equipment, Waddell said one of the main supply costs was related to body bags, but noted that he hadn’t charged the county for a body bag for the past three and a half years, or anything else.
“I haven’t billed the county for one item. I pay for everything myself,” Waddell said.
One of the reasons for that became apparent when Sparks answered the question. While Sparks noted the county was responsible for that cost, and during his tenure had allocated around “$5,500 a year” for expenses, Waddell noted that the coroner’s expense account has since been reduced to $4,000 a year.
Both men noted that they have, or would have if elected, deputy coroners working under them, and would maintain offices at both ends of the county. The duties of those deputy coroners, they explained, are nearly identical to those of the coroner.
The two also discussed indigent burial costs. Waddell said he has only had two – both very recently – in his tenure as coroner and in those cases he had provided caskets and a local monument company donated the vaults, with the county providing spots. Sparks said he had only experienced it a few times during his tenure as well, but that in those cases the county offered $100 for the burial, which, “as William knows too, that won’t even cover the cremation fee.”
He said that other surrounding counties offer up to $500 and that Carter County should probably consider raising that fee to offset the coroner’s costs.
When asked about their focus in the role, both noted that they wanted to return the death certificate, or as Sparks termed it, “that vital piece of paper,” back to the family as quickly as possible.
Waddell, however, added that in some instances the state could take as many as twelve weeks to return a cause of death in cases where the body needed to be sent off. In those cases, he said, the coroner’s hands were tied no matter who was in office.
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