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Three candidates for coroner stress compassion, professionalism

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Ready to face the issues: Crystel Myers (from left), Joe Fortner and Dan Devoy chat as final preparations are made for the Hancock County Coroner candidates' debate Monday night at Hancock County Public Library. (Tom Russo/Daily Reporter)
Ready to face the issues: Crystel Myers (from left), Joe Fortner and Dan Devoy chat as final preparations are made for the Hancock County Coroner candidates' debate Monday night at Hancock County Public Library. (Tom Russo/Daily Reporter)

A video of Monday night's debate can be viewed at greenfieldreporter.com

GREENFIELD — Despite their differing backgrounds, each of the three hopefuls for Hancock County coroner vows, if elected, to bring compassionate care for grieving families to the office.

The three contenders went head to head Monday night at Hancock County Public Library during a debate sponsored by the Daily Reporter.

The Daily Reporter has not included coroner candidates in its debate series in the past, but this year’s race has proven somewhat unusual.

There is no Republican Party nominee, yet two candidates – Joe Fortner and Dan Devoy – are both well-known Republicans running as independents. Also vying for the position is Democratic candidate Crystel Myers.

The office was recently vacated by Republican Tamara Vangundy, who was prohibited by state election law from holding office or running for re-election after pleading guilty in a drunken-driving case.

Vangundy was unopposed in the May primary, which occurred days after her arrest. All three candidates now running for the office joined the race after the primary election. Devoy, a field officer with Hancock County Community Corrections, currently holds the position of interim coroner.

Devoy is the closest thing the race has to an incumbent, having served as acting coroner since September. He also has eight years as a deputy coroner under his belt and touts his experience running the office as one reason voters should elect him. Devoy is actually on his second stint as interim coroner. He filled in for nine months in 2008 as well when then coroner John Jester was promoted to Greenfield Police Chief.

“As your coroner, I will bring back the respect and confidence that this office used to have and deserves now,” he said.

Fortner, a paramedic and emergency medical services coordinator for Hancock Regional Hospital, served as a deputy coroner for four years under Dr. Fred Counter in the late 1980s and has also been a reserve deputy for the sheriff’s department. He asked voters to consider the role of both law enforcement and the medical community – and his connection to both – in determining the cause and manner of death.

“I cannot tell you the number of deaths that I have been on,” he said. “I think it’s an important combination to have both, … to have a complete understanding of the process.”

Myers, who has a degree in mortuary science and is currently working on her bachelor’s degree in business administration, grew up in Martinsville and only recently moved to Hancock County. Without deep roots here, she is, admittedly, the lesser-known of the three candidates, but she told the audience Monday night that is exactly why she should be elected.

“I believe that Hancock County needs a new face,” she said. “They need somebody that doesn’t know everybody in town, ... and I’m that person. I think education is far more important than knowing where a street is in the county.”

Debate topics ranged from best practice for death notifications to balancing the budget.

But how to balance compassion and professionalism proved the focal point of Monday’s debate.

One point upon which the candidates did not agree is what those qualities dictate about handling the county’s autopsies.

That’s one issue that has proven controversial in recent months, as Devoy, after being appointed by the local Republican Party to serve as interim coroner, reversed Vangundy’s decision to have autopsies conducted locally.

Devoy opted to send them back to Marion County where they had been performed for years prior to Vangundy’s bringing them to a Greenfield funeral home last year.

“We live this close to a state-of-the-art facility,” he said. “We’ve got to use it. I don’t think there a detective, a law enforcement person in this county that would say I did the wrong thing.”

Fortner agreed, saying the county puts itself at risk if evidence is not maintained in a safe location with no public access.

“If you’re dealing with what could be a crime, … you need to take it to where the facility is absolute secure,” he said. “That could be very detrimental to the county from a liability portion.”

Myers, currently a stay-at-home mother, would transfer autopsies back to Hancock County if elected, agreeing with Vangundy’s stance last year that local service is comforting to families.

“Family wants family here,” she said. “I think you should keep it local.”

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