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Coroner-elect faces rocky transition into new position

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GREENFIELD — Shortly after Crystel Myers learned she would be Hancock County’s new coroner Jan. 1, she started making phone calls.

Myers, 29, is new not only to the political arena but has no background in death investigation. She knew she was going to need help, and she was prepared to ask for it. But she says the person in the best position to offer advice – her predecessor, experienced death investigator and interim coroner Dan Devoy – has given her the cold shoulder.

Myers, a Democrat, handily defeated Devoy and Joe Fortner, both Republicans who ran on the independent ballot, for the office in November.

After the election, Myers reached out to Devoy to request a meeting to go over paperwork and procedures. Myers remembers the conversation being about two weeks after Election Day. Devoy says the phone call came the day after he lost.

The pair spoke briefly, and Devoy, after asking Myers how she got his phone number, said he would call her back about setting up a time to get together.

Devoy admits he never did.

“What for?” Devoy said. “Why? … Whether I talk to her the day after the election or talk to her this whole two months, it still isn’t gonna prepare her.”

Myers disagrees and said she is disappointed in Devoy’s response. Myers said she recognizes Devoy has connections in the law enforcement community and has a wealth of knowledge about how the coroner’s office is run.

Myers said she was warned Devoy might not be cooperative during the transition if she defeated him at the polls, but she was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

“I made my effort,” she said. “I gave him my number. It rings really loud. If not, I have voice mail.”

Devoy never returned Myers’ call but passed a message to her through his chief deputy, Rudy Nylund, that he would meet with Myers Dec. 31.

“That’s when all this will happen,” Devoy said. “Not a day before, not a minute before. We haven’t changed hands. She’s not the coroner yet.”

Myers plans to retain Nylund as her chief deputy after taking office. He will join Devoy and Myers for the meeting Monday.

Meanwhile, Myers said she has resorted to contacting coroners from other counties in hopes of getting some practical advice on getting started. A deputy coroner from Johnson County is one who has served as a mentor, a role she hoped Devoy would fill.

The deputy has gone over basic paperwork with her and also invited her to sit in on autopsies.

While she is appreciative of the experience, Myers said she’s disappointed not to have had similar opportunities closer to home.

Myers said a variety of local officials have reached out to her, and Devoy is the only person to shrug off her attempt to get a jumpstart on learning the ropes.

Hancock County Prosecutor Michael Griffin is one who welcomed Myers after the election and offered to meet with her in advance of her taking office.

Griffin said he considers Devoy a good friend and supported him during the election, but the county’s safety depends on everyone working together to prepare Myers to take office.

“There is a time for politics, but that time has passed,” he said. “A full transfer means sitting down, talking about how things work, and giving the person a start, and that’s what’s needed.”

Griffin is also the one who provided Myers with Devoy’s phone number.

Griffin said he emailed Devoy and encouraged him to be cooperative, warning that the wrong attitude could jeopardize Devoy’s political future.

Devoy said this week he won’t run for coroner a third time.

Griffin was the Hancock County Republican Party chairman in 2008 when Devoy, who was interim coroner then as well, lost his first bid for coroner to Tamara Vangundy.

Interactions between Devoy and Vangundy were similarly icy during the last two months of the year. As party chair at the time, Griffin said he tried to serve as an intermediary.

“He conducted the transition with Tammy the same way he appears to be doing it now,” Griffin said.

Myers believes Devoy’s loss in 2008 has influenced his attitude.

“It’s hard for him to accept the fact that a woman has beat him twice – and I’m a Democrat,” she said.

Devoy stands by his approach and argues his mentoring Myers at this stage wouldn’t have made a difference.

“Rudy was gonna have to handle the reins of the place anyway,” he said. “She can be in charge, but Rudy is in charge – plain and simple. Rudy will do just great. She’s having anxieties, I believe, because she’s going to be walking into an office, blind, totally blind.”

Myers is the first to admit Nylund has been her saving grace.

“I’m gonna be ready, thanks to Rudy,” she said. “If I have a question about something, I don’t think I would ever hesitate to ask Rudy anything. I don’t want to step on anybody’s toes, and that’s not what I’m trying to do. And poor Rudy for being in the middle.”

Nylund said he planned to take all death investigations starting in mid-December so Devoy would have no pending cases after the first of the year.

But ultimately, that’s not how it worked out. Devoy has three investigations still pending, including the homicide just committed Sunday.

Devoy said he suggested bringing Myers in to shadow him during the homicide investigation, but he was advised against it. He declined to say by whom.

“She was not going to come to that homicide, period, the reason being is she’ll end up in court, and she’s not a coroner yet,” he said. “Would it have been nice for her to come? … Yes, but … what are we gonna do when she ends up in court? She could open her mouth on the stand and cause us a bunch of grief.”

Nylund was working out of town and was unavailable to lead the investigation that day, Devoy said.

Devoy said he’ll discuss the open cases and how they’ll be handled after the first of the year at his meeting with Myers Monday.

Devoy added he is confident the office is in good hands, not because of Myers, but because her chief deputy has years of experience.

“She’s not gonna make or break that office; Rudy is,” he said. “He’s not gonna let it happen. If Rudy needs help, he’ll know who to call. We’re not gonna let the office fail.”

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