Saturday, October 25, 2008

CSI Walterboro: Election 2008



In the midst of this super busy and crazed electoral season, a certain local election here in South Carolina has caught my attention. It seemed that out of nowhere election signs started cropping up to try to sway my vote for the position of County Coroner for Colleton County. It sort of got me thinking…why in the hell are we voting for the guy who declares people dead?

The current coroner for Colleton is Richard Harvey. I’ve known Richard for nearly five years. I see him all the time at Stingrays hockey games. I joked with him during the last election cycle, asking him what he’d done for the dead people of Colleton County that should earn my vote. His opponent is Michael Crosby, whom I know nothing about but is probably a decent fellow.

Most of us likely think that a coroner and a medical examiner are the same thing, and most of us get our idea of what a medical examiner is from watching Jan Garavaglia on “Dr. G, Medical Examiner”, or Doc Robbins on CSI, who is listed as both a coroner and the Chief Medical Examiner in the show credits. Either way, it would seem that the individual in question declares people dead and does autopsies & such on the aforementioned deceased folk.

Medical examiner:
An appointed medically qualified officer whose duty is to investigate deaths and bodily injuries that occur under unusual or suspicious circumstances, to perform post-mortems, and sometimes to initiate inquests.

Coroner:
[related to Anglo-French corouner, from coroune, meaning crown]: An officer of a county, district, state, or municipality; originally, in medieval England, an official who upheld the monarch's rights of private property. From the 16th and 17th centuries on, the chief duty of the coroner was to hold inquests on the bodies of those believed to have died by violence or accident, or who suffered grievous bodily harm. In modern times, in the United States, the coroner is an elected official.

A coroner is not necessarily a medical examiner. Medical examiners are medical doctors who have specialised in anatomical- or forensic pathology. In countries such as the United States, where the coroner is an elected, political position, a coroner need not be a medical examiner, though many are. Many jurisdictions in America have replaced the coroner with M.E.’s, which leads me to the argument of how/why do we go about electing a coroner in this day & age?

I mean, I have yet to see a debate between coroner candidates. Maybe we should get the candidates together on TV and have some slick moderator bait them like they do with Presidential candidates? Well, it turns out that there was a debate of sorts, on October 13, when candidates for all elected offices were invited to come and meet their constituents by the Colleton County Taxpayers Association (CCTA). The event was open to the public. The format for the forum consisted of candidates being asked three to four questions from the planning committee of the event, then they were asked questions from the audience, and finally they were given the opportunity to address the gathering in a two-minute closing statement.

The questions from the Taxpayers Association for the Office of Coroner included; (1) Will you be a full time coroner? (2) Will you or have you ever used a county vehicle without reimbursing for gas? (3) How many deputy coroners do you/would you have? And (4) How diverse is your workforce? From the audience the candidates were asked about their medical training and background and their knowledge of autopsy policy and procedures here in the South Carolina. In addition, Mr. Harvey was asked about how much of his time is spent away from the county teaching at MUSC.

Kinda lightweight, if you ask me. Where’s the hardball questions? Stuff like “What will you do for the dead people of Colleton County?” I’m assuming that the question about the gas reimbursements would relate to personal use of a county vehicle, since asking someone to pay for the gas they use in the performance of their official duties would be ludicrous. And something tells me that if someone dies while Richard is in Charleston at the Medical University, chances are that they’ll still be dead when he gets back. Let the man teach.

I’ve yet to see any flyers in my mailbox highlighting their positions, either. So far, all I’ve seen are the ubiquitous roadside signs asking for my vote. Of course, what positions would a coroner really need to have? It seems to me to be a position that really should be a hired slot, filled by a well-qualified individual, instead of having to shell out money for signs and stickers and buttons, and taking time away from doing actual governmental work to get elected, not to mention the governmental expense of the balloting/voting process. I mean, hell, you hire a town manager based on a resume and work experience, and that person operates your entire town. But we have to have an electoral process for the person who shows up in the plain white van to say “Yup, he’s dead”.

I know that’s really oversimplifying the duties of a coroner, but it’s not exactly a CEO deal, and in dinky old Colleton County, South-by-God-Carolina, we’re not exactly in the same sort of criminal forensics territory of, say, Los Angeles….or even Omaha or Des Moines. We don’t get too many exotic methods of death here. Most non-natural causes of death here involve someone wrapped around a tree.

What exactly does one have to do wrong in order to get voted out of office as coroner? Declare someone dead who wasn’t? Refuse to declare an obvious corpse dead?

So, don’t forget to vote in November, and don’t forget your county coroner. Make sure the right person zips closed your body bag and sends you off for toe-tagging. You’re really only pronounced two things in your life, and that’s either married or dead, and one of those you can only do once despite what they say about till death do us part. Make sure the right person declares you dead.

1 comment:

jmkwriteswell said...

I love it! "Yup, he's dead."

Come to think of it, I don't recall any coroner elections in my lifetime. Odd.

JMK