Republican coroner’s race brings familiar competitors

HANCOCK COUNTY — The three-way race for the Republican nomination for county coroner might feel a little like déjà vu.

Dan Devoy and Joe Fortner, who lost a three-way race for the seat in 2012, are seeking the Republican Party nomination for the position, which paid about $7,800 in 2015. Also running is deputy coroner Rudy Nylund, who is running for the office for the first time but has served as a deputy coroner since 2006.

Their names should sound familiar. Each of the candidates has sought to fill voids in the office’s leadership, which has been in flux the past few years.

In 2012, Coroner Tammy Vangundy was removed from office after she pleaded guilty in a drunken-driving case that prohibited her from holding office. Devoy was chosen over both Nylund and Fortner by a Republican caucus to fulfill the remaining three months of her term.

When the local Republican Party declined to slate a replacement for Vangundy on the Republican ballot for the 2012 general election, Devoy and Fortner filed to run as independents against Democrat Crystel Myers, who won the race.

Myers, whose term ends this year, has not filed for re-election. Her leadership the past three years has been criticized by county officials, who have twice docked her pay, noting she completes payroll and other paperwork but doesn’t take an active role in death investigations.

Last year, Myers said she hasn’t investigated a death since 2013, instead taking an administrative role as coroner. Her deputy coroners, including Nylund, handle all death investigations.

Devoy, a field officer for Hancock County Community Corrections, filed for election Monday. He has a decade’s worth of experience working as a deputy coroner for the local coroner’s office, including a stint as former Coroner John Jester’s chief deputy coroner. He has not served under Myers.

Nylund, who is a full-time assistant fire chief for Buck Creek Township Fire Department, also has nearly 10 years’ experience working for the office; he’s been involved in more than 300 death investigations during his tenure, and this year, took more death calls than any other deputy coroner.

Fortner, a retired Greenfield Fire Department fire chief, served as chief deputy coroner under Dr. Fred Counter in the late 1980s.

Both Nylund and Devoy say their campaign goals include securing more funding for the office, which has seen budget shortfalls the past few years. Last September, for example, the county council had to secure $20,000 of emergency funding to pay the office’s remaining bills for 2015.

An increased caseload has strained funding, Nylund said, as more autopsies are required. This year, the office investigated 129 deaths, compared to the 50 to 60 the office investigated just a few years ago.

Devoy said he’d work with other county officials to find ways to increase funding for the office. Its budget needs to be updated to better reflect the caseload, he said.

Nylund said the coroner’s office needs more work space to accommodate the increase in cases. Currently, the coroner’s office is one room located in the basement of the sheriff’s department.

Nylund’s No. 1 goal if elected is securing a larger, independent office space.

Fortner said the biggest issue the office currently faces is a drug problem in the county. He wants the coroner’s office to work with local law enforcement and other community organizations to educate the community about the harmful effects of drugs, such as heroin.

So far, no Democrats have filed to run for coroner; residents have until noon Feb. 5 to file for the May 3 primary.

Other county offices on the ballot include treasurer, three at-large council seats and two commissioner seats.

SHARE
Samm Quinn is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3275 or squinn@greenfieldreporter.com.