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Hopefuls tout resumes as they eye changes

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The Daily Reporter/Hancock County Public Library debate series continues at 6 p.m. Monday with a debate between the candidates for Indiana Senate District 28, Democrat Michael Adkins and Republican Mike Crider. The debate will be at the library, 900 W. McKenzie Road. The candidates for coroner will debate on Oct. 22. The final debate in the series, Oct. 29, will feature the county council candidates.

Where do the coroner candidates stand? Our grid lets you compare the candidates side by side. Page B4

GREENFIELD — The three hopefuls for Hancock County coroner all tout their experience as the reason voters should put them in office, yet each brings a unique skill set to the table.

Joe Fortner, a Republican running as an independent, touts a combination of law enforcement and medical experience.

Democratic candidate Crystel Myers points to her degree in mortuary science as one quality that sets her apart from the competition.

Interim Coroner Dan Devoy, also a Republican running as an independent, boasts years of investigative know-how.

Here’s a closer look at the candidates:

Joe Fortner, a Republican running as an independent, touts a combination of law enforcement and medical experience.

Democratic candidate Crystel Myers points to her degree in mortuary science as one quality that sets her apart from the competition.

Interim Coroner Dan Devoy, also a Republican running as an independent, boasts years of investigative know-how.

Here’s a closer look at the candidates:

Joe Fortner

Fortner, 59, of Greenfield, was born in southern Illinois but has called Hancock County home since his family moved here when Fortner was about 5 years old.

Fortner, a paramedic at Hancock Regional Hospital and the hospital’s EMS coordinator, has been married to his wife, Jody, for 13 years, and they have two young children together. Fortner has three grown children from a previous marriage.

Fortner’s interest in public service has its roots in an unusual place – the trucking company he once owned.

It was 1983 when Fortner was driving to Florida, and the transmission went out on his semi just south of Louisville. The garage he went to had a repair service on one side and an ambulance service on the other.

“While I was there, I got to talking to the guys, … and that kind of sparked my interest a little bit,” he said.

Within a few years, Fortner’s career path had switched directions. He would go on to take EMT classes and begin work as a firefighter/EMT at the Greenfield Fire Department.

In 1985, he began courses to become a paramedic through Methodist Hospital and finished the program in 16 months.

Fortner served as chief of the department under former Mayor Pat Elmore from 1996 to 2000.

Fortner’s public safety experience isn’t limited to the fire department. He has also worked as a reserve officer for both the Greenfield Police Department and Hancock County Sheriff’s Department. His law enforcement experience also includes a year serving as a member of the Indiana National Guard Military Police.

Fortner said he felt compelled to run for coroner after the arrest of former Coroner Tamara Vangundy.

Vangundy was arrested in May for showing up, impaired, at the scene of a teenager’s suicide.

Fortner said Vangundy’s actions brought to light a problem he fears is becoming more prominent.

If elected, Fortner said he would like to create a more proactive coroner’s office, one that might address issues like teen suicide before there is a death.

“(Coroners) don’t go to work until something bad’s happened,” he said. “Maybe if we can develop a program to prevent some of the bad things, maybe we don’t have to work as hard.”

Fortner believes a combination of investigative know-how and medical experience sets him apart from his competition.

Fortner served as a deputy coroner for four years under Dr. Fred Counter in the late 1980s. In his experience, understanding how the human body works is crucial to determining how and why a person died, he said.

“I think, in order to really be able to determine exactly what the cause of death was, you have to have an understanding of how those systems work and the process the body goes through as death occurs,” he said. “I think people should have the trust in their coroner that they’ve really got the knowledge and experience to do the job the way it ought to be done.”

Crystel Myers

When Myers talks about her qualifications to serve as coroner, it isn’t her background as a certified nursing assistant or her degree in mortuary science that she focuses on; it’s the death of her only daughter.

Alleighana Myers died from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome a week before she would have turned 4 months old. That was almost four years ago, and the experience is still fresh in Myers’ mind.

Myers, 28, of Greenfield, said she wants to provide the community with the kind of compassion and professionalism she wishes she and her husband, Justin, would have received during that difficult time.

“It took 26 weeks to get my daughter’s death certificate back,” she said. “It was a mess.”

If elected coroner, Myers promises to be trustworthy, compassionate, and above all, punctual. Making personal connections with members of the community is important, she said.

“I’m going to remember your name,” she said.

Myers, now a stay-at-home mother of three who works part time at Wal-Mart, grew up in Martinsville and graduated from Martinsville High School in 2002. After graduation, she got her license as a certified nursing assistant and began working for her grandmother, a nurse who ran an in-home health care business.

But after the death of her grandmother, the work proved too difficult, and Myers said she needed a change.

She enrolled in Ivy Tech Community College in 2007 with her sights set on a degree in mortuary science.

Then, she met her husband. A year later, the couple was married.

They now have three young children; Armand, Alexxzander, and Aberam.

Myers completed her degree in mortuary science in 2010 and is now focusing on getting a bachelor’s degree in business management through Western Governors University.

Ultimately, she hopes to own her own funeral home.

As a student and mother, Myers is busy, but she said working part time as the coroner would be the perfect job for someone with her availability and skill set.

“I was afraid that my age was doing to hinder the community’s thought about how I could handle a job, but with my education background and my personal background with dealing with death, I can do this,” she said.

Like Fortner, Myers decided to run after Vangundy’s arrest.

“I just kind of jumped in and went for it,” she said. “If not now, when?”

Myers is banking on the number of straight-ticket Democratic voters outweighing the number of Republicans who deviate from straight-ticket voting to support Devoy or Fortner.

That being said, her support does not come solely from the local Democratic Party, she said.

“I’ve had a lot of strong support from the Republicans just as well,” she said. “I’m not saying Republicans want my sign in their yard, and I’m not saying they’re telling the truth. I don’t have as much support as Dan Devoy and Joe Fortner, but I have ’em hiding out there.”

Dan Devoy

Dan Devoy, 58, of Greenfield, grew up in a military family and traveled across over the country throughout his childhood.

But decades later, when it came time for Devoy, who had pursued a military career himself, to retire from the Army, he decided Indiana was the place he wanted to stay.

Having spent summers in Terre Haute with relatives over the years, he found he liked the Midwest.

“I like the seasons; I like the farm; I like the openness,” he said. “The people are very, very friendly.”

Devoy moved here in 1998 and retired from the Army in 2000. He now works as a field officer for the Hancock County Community Corrections Department and serves as a reserve officer for the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department.

Prior to working at community corrections, Devoy served as an investigator for two years under former Prosecutor Terry Snow.

Devoy and his wife of 10 years, Kim Reeves Devoy, have two children and are eagerly awaiting the birth of their first grandchild in November. Devoy also has a daughter from a previous marriage.

Devoy, who was recently voted to serve as interim coroner following Vangundy’s removal from office, worked as a deputy coroner under former Coroner John Jester for almost eight years. When Jester was promoted to Greenfield police chief in March 2008, the local Republican Party tapped Devoy to finish out the final nine months of Jester’s term.

Devoy then lost to Vangundy in the 2008 primary election.

Like Fortner, Devoy is a Republican running as an independent. He, too, filed after Vangundy’s arrest. Devoy said he hoped to restore public trust in the office.

Devoy has wasted no time making changes. He has already reversed a decision made by Vangundy last year to keep autopsies in Hancock County, citing concerns about the security of local funeral homes.

Autopsies are now being conducted at the Marion County coroner’s office, which handled them for years before Vangundy moved them to Erlewein Mortuary.

Devoy hopes the recent caucus decision to appoint him as interim coroner is reflective of how the local Republican Party as a whole feels about his qualifications.

“I think it’s going to come down to experience – past experience and present experience,” he said. “I was very happy that the Republicans saw that the time that I spent in the office as coroner… was worthy of their vote. It totally floored me.”

Devoy knows the election could be decided by straight-ticket voters, but he said he is confident the county’s Republicans will support him.

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