The Republic Masthead

Bartholomew County Republican primary

Coroner

 

Larry Fisher

Party: Republican

Office sought: Bartholomew County coroner

Campaign experience: Elected to four-year terms as coroner in 1985, 1989, 1997 and 2001.

Job: Owner of Fisher's Flower Basket in Columbus; deputy coroner; president of the Bartholomew County Council.

Family: Wife Joyce; two grown sons; two grown daughters.

Lonnie Vautaw

Party: Republican

Office sought: Bartholomew County coroner

Campaign experience: Ran unsuccessfully for coroner in 2008, losing in the primary to eventual winner Allen Smith.

Job: Registered nurse at Columbus Regional Hospital.

Family: Husband Mark; 37-year-old daughter and sons age 34, 33, and 16.

 

1) What would be your approach to working with police and fire departments? I would continue as we have the past 26 years, working closely with the fire departments, the volunteer fire departments, the police, the state police, sheriff's department and the detectives. We use a team approach to investigate every death, first of all as might be a homicide. Once that is eliminated we will proceed with what is natural causes or whatever has occurred. We have had a good relationship, particularly on traffic accidents to get the deceased removed quickly from the scene so we can free up the highway, the personnel and the ambulance. My approach in terms of working with the police and fire department would definitely be a team approach. When the coroner is required at a scene, the coroner usually is notified by law enforcement or the hospital staff. A forensic investigation is always launched to see what the cause and manner of the death is. Working with law enforcement, they have the crime scene and the coroner has the body. So it has to be a team approach because both of those circles overlap and there has to be coordination and communication of who and what does the job. I have experience with the police department, because my dad was a policeman. ... My son-in-law is a fireman. So I know it's essential to respect their territory and communicate effectively with them.
2) How do you operate within budget constraints when you never know the cost of pathology and toxicology services? Having been on the council the last four years, I know what county budgets are like and that money is tight. What we do in the coroner's office is estimate the number of deaths from previous years. We judge our autopsy and toxicology budget accordingly. We will do about 40 percent of those in autopsies. We ask the council to grant us that amount of money. Then if we run into a case like a quadruple homicide, we would go back to the council for an additional appropriation. The coroner's office operates on a very tight budget. ... Keeping path costs and toxicology costs in line are an important part of the coroner's office. One of the things about having a legal forensic nurse, it has actually be shown to reduce the costs of autopsies by applying the nursing knowledge base and the clinical knowledge base you can actually determine what the cause of death is without having to go the route of autopsy. However, there are some autopsies and path and tox costs that you just can't escape. They are essential to the prosecution making a case. Doing the correct test, gathering the correct information at the time of death so that you don't have to go back and have increased costs ...will actually save and reduce costs.
3) Coroners today have to identify bodies visually by the family, by dental records, by DNA or by fingerprints. Is there anything else you'd like to see changed for the office? That's a very difficult question because we have so many new technologies available, for instance CAT scans and MRIs, DNA that we did not have 20 years ago. And identification of bodies is much easier today and we want to make sure everybody we bring into the morgue is identified properly. If that needs to be a visual identification by a member of the family then that's what we do. If we have a body that is dismembered or in such a state that it can't be identified that way, we will go to dental records and so forth. I think the system is not broke; why try to fix it? Some of the changes that I would look for in my coroner's office would be, I would be asking questions and the deputy coroners would be asking questions on medical knowledge and the law and how that applies to that specific death investigation. And would be applying the health care and science of an investigation. So essentially the labs and toxicologies would be reviewed and that information would be given to law enforcement and collaborated with them and the prosecutor if a crime is suspected. I also want to collaborate with law enforcement education to our county. I have a 16-year-old about ready to drive and I'm very concerned about the iPod and texting use and I think the coroner's office could be effective in the schools, given some discussions about teenage death and driving. I'm also interested in childhood deaths and injury and prevention. I think the coroner's office could have a positive impact on the community by discussing how to prevent injury and death in children.
     

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