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updated: 2/6/2012 2:07 PM

Coroner candidates differ on need of medical degree

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  • Steve Newton

      Steve Newton

  • Dr. Thomas Rudd

      Dr. Thomas Rudd

  • Howard Cooper

      Howard Cooper

  • Artis Yancey

      Artis Yancey

 
 

Not surprisingly given their professions, the candidates for the coroner's job in Lake County are divided on whether the official should be a medical doctor.

A doctor and a dentist running for the post believe the coroner should be a doctor. The two other candidates disagree.

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Two Democrats and two Republicans are running for the job, which comes with a 4-year term. The winners of the March 20 party primaries will face off in the November general election.


The Democrats are incumbent Artis Yancey and Dr. Thomas Rudd. The Republicans are former chief deputy coroner Steve Newton and dentist Howard Cooper.

The candidates talked about the job in questionnaires for the Daily Herald.

Rudd, a physician from Lake Forest, insisted the coroner should be a medical doctor.

Rudd said he would be able to use his medical training to deal with other physicians and to independently evaluate medical, surgical, therapeutic and hospital records.

"Who would you want to review your loved one's medical records and manner of death to decide if an autopsy is necessary?" Rudd wrote. "An experienced, board-certified physician (or) pathologist, or a lay person with no training or experience in the science of medicine?"

Yancey, a former police chief from Waukegan who was appointed coroner last year, disagreed. Traditionally, he said, the county coroner has not been a doctor.

Yancey's predecessor in office, Richard Keller, was a medical doctor, however.

"The coroner's position is to rule on cause and manner of death via investigation," Yancey wrote. "It would create a conflict of interest to conduct an autopsy and rule on your own work."

Cooper, a Gurnee dentist with forensic skills, also said the coroner should be a doctor. Having a dental or medical background would help a coroner understand cause-of-death issues, he said.

"It is also quite an asset when discussing or viewing autopsies with the pathologists," he said, referring to the doctors who conduct autopsies.

Newton, a Lake County court security officer from Antioch who worked in the coroner's office from 2000 to 2007, said it's a misconception that the coroner should be a doctor.

Under Illinois law, only forensic pathologists can perform autopsies, he said, and they cannot do so in their home county if they're also serving as coroner.

"The coroner is an administrative role, one that supervises investigators and works with other officials throughout the county," Newton said. "As we have seen in the past, having a doctor elected to office opens the door for impropriety."

That comment was a jab at former coroner Keller, who was forced to resign and give up his medical license in 2011 after a Waukegan methadone clinic where Keller worked as medical director was linked to an overdose death.

Keller avoided prison time as part of a plea deal.

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