Meet the coroners

Published 10:43 pm Saturday, March 15, 2008

Pearl River County’s Coroner’s office will aim to continue the efforts practiced in past administrations while working to bring new things in the coming years.

Along with the newly elected Coroner Derek Turnage there are five deputy coroners who work incidents of death in Pearl River County. Over the decades the profession of coroner went from an informal system to a system of medical and legal accountability. Now all staff now have some form of formal training and professional experience.

Deputy coroners include Keim Davis, Debbie Carter, Albert Sanders, Dempsy Seals and Dan Brown. Each deputy coroner brings with them a number of years of professional and medical experience. Two of the deputy coroners live in the north end of the county while the other four reside in the south end of the county, ensuring the entire county will be covered in a timely manner in case their services are needed.

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Three of the six coroners are certified child death investigators. Certification in that area ensures that those death investigators ask the same questions in an effort to determine the cause of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome or Sudden Unexplained Infant Death Syndrome.

Davis has 20 years of paramedic experience and worked for an international drilling company as their accident investigator. He also performed safety audits, he said.

Carter has been a registered nurse for 27 years where she works in the surgery ward at Highland Community Hospital. Three days out of the week, or whenever they need her, she also works as a PRN in Slidell. La.

“She’s going to be a great asset to the Coroner’s office,” Turnage said.

Sanders is in his first year as a registered nurse. He recently went back to school at the University of Southern Mississippi to become a nurse practitioner, he said.

Seals has worked as a deputy coroner for the past three administrations, giving him about 13 years experience. He said he is a retired law officer with 30 years of experience, for 15 years he worked in EMS and for 12 years he worked as a funeral director.

Brown has been a Mississippi licensed funeral director and embalmer for seven years and has been in the funeral business for 13 years. He previously worked as a deputy coroner in Kentucky for two and a half years. He said he is a graduate of Ohio University and the Cincinnati School of Embalming.

Turnage, has worked as deputy coroner since 2002, and has been a medical social worker since 1993, he said.

During his administration Turnage said he is working to have all coroner documents computerized. This and other efforts will streamline the office’s processes. This streamlining should make it easier for families to obtain death certificates and coroner reports from his office. Part of the streamlining process will involve using a pathologist with a smaller case load, so reports will be available at the coroner’s office quicker. The office will now use the services of Dr. Paul McGarry, Turnage said.

In the future Turnage is working to bring autopsies into the county and provide McGarry a local place to operate. County and city officials are working to make it happen, but Turnage said the process will not happen overnight.

“It’s not going to happen tonight, but I think it’s going to happen during my administration,” Turnage said.

Forrest General has indicated Picayune’s new hospital will contain a morgue.

A new office space has been provided for Pearl River County’s Coroner. That office is located at the city hall in Picayune. The loss of Chimney Square has left the county with limited office space, so the county and city worked together to provide space for the Coroner’s office, Turnage said.

In the next month the Coroner’s office will have a website with information on the kinds of death situations that warrant a coroner’s attention, how to acquire information from the office and links to other resources.

Turnage said the office receives an average of 30 calls a month. However, that figure is not an accurate gauge of the number of deaths that occur in the county. Turnage said deaths occur while a patient is under a doctor’s care, which do not warrant a coroner’s attention. Deaths that warrant a coroner’s attention include those of people under law enforcement care, children under two years of age and accidents or murders, Turnage said.

Turnage’s goal is to continue to progress on work his predecessors, Norman Sims and Dr. Walter Gibson, conducted during their administrations. He said they both did great work.

Community programs will also be part of what Turnage’s administration will include. He said he recently spoke to participants in the Adolescent Offender Program, which will continue, and plans to continue Gipson’s practice of talking to school children. These programs will help educate children on the issues regarding death, such as drug use.

“Because it’s too late when there’s been a death, we need to take advantage and work with these children,” Turnage said.

The Coroner’s office can be reached 24 hours a day seven days a week via their answering service at 601-795-1072. Residents can leave a message and the Coroner’s office will call them back.