Stillinger posts convincing win for coroner

David Stillinger

HANCOCK COUNTY — The voting reports were trickling in slowly, so David Stillinger decided to say goodbye to his friends at the Fraternal Order of Police around 9 p.m. and head home.

With a cushion of nearly 2-to-1 in his Republican primary race, he was confident he would win, but it wasn’t until an hour later that he would see the final results posted online.

He had defeated Joe Fortner with 65 percent of the vote, securing the Republican nomination for Hancock County coroner in November. He received the second-highest number of votes of any Republican candidate for countywide office, and he enjoyed the largest margin of victory.

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If he wins — a likely prospect with no Democratic challenger in sight — he’ll be elected to his second consecutive term as coroner.

Fortner took the loss in stride. This was his fourth try for the office.

“I knew going into this it would be a challenge because it’s hard to beat an incumbent, especially one that’s doing a good job,” he said of Stillinger. “I wish him the best of luck in these next four years.”

Assuming he wins in November, Stillinger is looking forward to continuing the task of enhancing the coroner’s office and further developing positive relationships with local law enforcement.

His biggest goal is to establish an office space for the coroner.

“I think I’m the only elected county official without an office, so we’d like to work with the county and possibly find a place to find a secure morgue, autopsy suite and office for the coroner. No one should be expected to run it out of your home or your own business,” he said.

In 2016, Stillinger ran on a platform of overhauling the coroner’s office and improving relationships with police agencies. Each of his two predecessors were plagued by scandals.

“I’ve been very pleased with what we got accomplished,” he said. “We worked really hard to build back relationships within the sheriff’s department and police department, and I think we’ve done that. I have a good crew of deputies. They cover the county very well, and they definitely have done a lot of great work.”

Stillinger said his office is processing pathology tests and issuing death certificates much more quickly than his predecessors. “That means a lot to the families who are dealing with the death of a loved one,” said Stillinger, who owns Stillinger Family Funeral Home in Greenfield.

“The sooner you get a final determination back and you can tell the family, it eases their minds about what they passed away from, so there’s not a big question looming for a long period of time.”

Stillinger staked this year’s campaign on his experience as both a coroner and a businessman, saying he strives to run the coroner’s office like a business.

Fortner, a longtime first-responder and the current emergency medical services coordinator at Hancock Regional Hospital, campaigned saying his experience in emergency medical services and law enforcement made him a great choice for the job.

After the votes were all counted, Fortner was non-committal about future plans but didn’t rule out another run for coroner in 2024.

“It will be another four years before it comes around again. We’ll see what happens when it rolls back around,” he said.