Coroner hopefuls debate

GREENFIELD — It all comes down to trust — on that, four candidates in the race for county coroner agree.

The four Republican candidates for Hancock County Coroner faced off Friday night to detail their experience and hopes for the office. The debate focused on leadership and what will be required of the department head to restore trust to an office that has been plagued by controversy in recent years.

Chief deputy coroner Rudy Nylund is running against Dan Devoy, Joe Fortner and David Stillinger. Each came to the debate promising to be the compassionate, trustworthy leader who will rebuild the office’s relationship with the community and other local leaders.

No Democrats filed for the May 3 primary race, including incumbent Crystel Myers, who has not investigated a death since 2013, when she was accused of shoplifting from a local store and arrested. Myers’ misdemeanor conviction allowed her to keep her job, but she retreated from the spotlight following her legal woes.

The coroner’s duties involve determining a person’s cause of death and whether they died as a result of a homicide, suicide or natural causes. A coroner decides when an autopsy will be conducted and is tasked with handling all evidence collected at the scene of death.

Each of the Republican candidates told an audience of about 50 community members that they will step up to rebuild the public’s trust. They discussed similar goals to educate the community while claiming their background is the one that can best serve the county.

Stillinger, owner and funeral director of Stillinger Family Funeral Home-Pasco Chapel in Greenfield, called the controversy surround the office in recent years a “public black mark.”

“We all kind of know that there’s problems,” he said. “We need to be visible. If you’re not gonna be visible, there’s not gonna be trust.”

Stillinger and Devoy, a field officer for Hancock County Community corrections, both discussed the need for compassion as they meet families who are facing a tragedy.

Devoy, who is also a longtime sheriff’s reserve deputy, told the crowd his expertise as an investigator and relationship with local police are invaluable. And he promised to run the office like a business, where he is the experienced leader of a compassionate team.

“What we’ve been missing is … someone who cared about this job,” Devoy said.

The coroner’s job is one that can’t be done single-handedly, the candidates agreed. They all discussed the need to hire at least four deputies to help shoulder the workload and promised to hire competent, trustworthy and skilled individuals to work beside.

Several of the candidates boast similar backgrounds — both Nylund, assistant fire chief Buck Creek Township Fire Department, and Fortner, the EMS coordinator for Hancock Regional Hospital, cited medical know-how they say makes them qualified to handle investigations with medical expertise.

Fortner said he wants to bring the office back “to a respectable level,” and one of his top goals for the office to make the office more proactive by educating the public about preventable deaths, such as overdoses and suicides.

He hopes to create a committee encompassing members of law enforcement, educators, social and mental health workers and hospital personnel that will create programs to educate the public.

With Myers handling primarily administrative duties, Nylund said he’s stepped up as the leader of the office, doing what he can to keep the relationship with local law enforcement positive and serving families to the best of his ability.

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Caitlin VanOverberghe is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3237 or cvanoverberghe@greenfieldreporter.com.