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Kevin Crosby takes the mic at the St. Lawrence County Republicans meet-the-candidates dinner. Photo: Sarah Harris
Kevin Crosby takes the mic at the St. Lawrence County Republicans meet-the-candidates dinner. Photo: Sarah Harris

Why do we elect a coroner, anyway?

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In St. Lawrence County, four coroners are notified when a fatal accident happens.

One of them takes the call, drives to the scene, day or night. Besides issuing an official announcement of a death, the coroner also figures out where to transport the body, and coordinates with police, courts, and hospitals.

It's a behind-the-scenes job - and one you might forget is actually a public office.

But almost 1600 counties around the country still elect coroners St. Lawrence County is one. Two of three candidates will be elected next Tuesday.

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Reported by

Sarah Harris
Reporter and Producer

Eric Warner, Democratic Candidate. Photo: Eric Warner, used with permission.
Eric Warner, Democratic Candidate. Photo: Eric Warner, used with permission.
It’s Thursday afternoon, and the small choir at the Episcopal Church in Ogendensurg is practicing. The person behind the piano is Eric Warner. He’s a former funeral director, an organist, and a stay-at-home dad who raises Clydesdale horses. And he’s running for coroner, as a Democrat.

"I miss dealing with people as they go through a grieving time. So that’s really why I wanted to be a county coroner so I can help people who are grieving or who have lost a loved one," Warner says. 

That same night, Kevin Crosby, from Morristown, and June Wood, from Hopkinton, are at the Freight House Restaurant in Ogdensburg. It’s the annual St. Lawrence County Republicans meet-the-candidates dinner.Wood and Crosby are both running for coroner as Republicans.

June Wood, Republican incumbent. She has been county coroner for 12 years. Photo: Sarah Harris
June Wood, Republican incumbent. She has been county coroner for 12 years. Photo: Sarah Harris
June Wood takes the microphone first, and explains that she’s been county coroner for 12 years and works on the Tri-Town rescue squad.

"So, in summary I guess, I would just hope that you would vote for me, vote for experience, and I would love to serve another four years," Wood says at the end of her speech. 

Kevin Crosby goes next. 

"I’m a lifelong resident of Morristown, I’m a 22 year member of the Morristown Fire and Rescue Company, serving the past 17 years as fire chief."

There are two open seats for coroner in St. Lawrence County this year. Even though the three candidates are running on multiple party lines, June Wood says it’s a position where electoral politics don’t matter very much. But people politics do.

"Basically to be a coroner you just have to be publicly popular. I guess it’s more of a popularity contest. Then you learn the job as you go."

Eric Warner, the Democratic candidate, agrees. A few weeks ago the coroner hopefuls all went to a meet-the-candidates event in Wanakena. While other politicians were asked about their opinions on the New York Safe Act, the coroners weren’t.

"They would never ask a coroner that," Warner says, with a grin. "They could care less about what we think about what toilet paper to use in the community building!"

Be that as it may, the coroner’s race comes with all the trappings of a small-town election: yard signs, party dinners, and for Eric Warner, spending the entire summer marching in parades.

"We did 14 parades. And either I took my horses which are black Clydesdales or I took our John Deer 420."

And the three candidates for coroner do all have experience dealing with death. 

Kevin Crosby says he's been at a lot of death scenes with the fire department, and he wants to help make the process more efficient:

"I really just want to help people and ‘get em through their time of need at the time and anything to make that process faster, I’m for." 

Electing a coroner is a holdover from British Common Law, where the coroner’s job was to determine how and when people had died in order to collect taxes.

For a long time in New York State, the coroner was the only person who could arrest the sheriff if he or she committed a crime.

But now, the reality of being coroner means serving as a resource when someone has died

 June Wood says that role extends beyond a death date. 

"I still get calls from people that I served years ago asking questions because a lot of times it takes awhile for them to filter things out and they remember something they wanted to ask but didn’t. I make myself available to them whenever they need me, so I get calls at 2 in the morning just to chat."

Nobody knows how the votes for coroner will fall: whether voters will toe the party line, or vote for somebody they know, whether the Republican votes will split.

All the candidates say they’re running because they want to be there for the people St. Lawrence County when somebody dies. And they want your vote on Election Day. 

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