Lake County Coroner candidates vow to bring compassion to office

  • Republican Howard Cooper, left, and Democrat Michael Donnenwirth are candidates for Lake County coroner.

    Republican Howard Cooper, left, and Democrat Michael Donnenwirth are candidates for Lake County coroner.


By Mick Zawislak

Updated 10/10/2016 7:06 PM

A dentist and a retired police officer running for Lake County coroner say improving service and the working environment in the office are priorities.

Republican Howard Cooper of Bannockburn, who is a private practice dentist, and Michael Donnenwirth, a retired Waukegan police officer, agree public accessibility needs to improve and vow to bring compassion to the job held the last four years by the sometimes controversial Thomas Rudd.


Rudd, a Democrat, is running as a write-in candidate after his bid to be listed on the Nov. 8 ballot as an independent was rejected by the courts. Rudd withdrew from the primary after Donnenwirth -- who was fired by Rudd -- challenged his nominating papers and subsequent attempt as an independent.

Donnenwirth served as Waukegan police union president and said he has been involved in law enforcement and death investigations for 38 years, a background that gives him an edge.

"Every single day is an investigation," he said.

Cooper, who ran unsuccessfully for the position in the 2012 primary, said a medical professional experienced in forensics is needed in the job and his experience would be valuable. He has done dental identifications as part of disaster and mortuary response teams, including at ground zero in New York and after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, and he also has worked for other coroners and medical examiners.

He said forensic investigators should be board certified as medicolegal death investigators and would continue to further staff education and training.

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Cooper said death prevention for young people is a priority, and the coroner should be in high schools talking with students about heroin, alcohol, texting and driving, suicide, bullying and other behaviors.

"I want to make it where we're not having to use it," he said of the heroin overdose antidote naloxone. "The only time a teenager should be at the coroner's office is when they're on a tour. Period."

Donnenwirth said the office would revive preventive death programs that have been eliminated, have child safety seat instruction as needed and bring back bicycle and fire safety programs.

An open-door policy with residents would be instituted, and the office would assist or direct families in proper procedures when a loved one dies, he added.


"Basically, we would treat you with respect and dignity through the whole process and we would try to work with you as quickly as we can," he said.

Donnenwirth also vowed to be a full-time coroner and bring needed structure to the office, including having himself or the chief deputy available during office hours.

"Basically, it's a free-for-all once your in there," he added.

"Returning morale and a positive working environment" also were goals, he said.

Cooper said being compassionate and getting information to visitors in a timely manner is a priority, and the office needs to reestablish a positive working relationship with the sheriff's and state's attorney's offices and prosecutors.

Donnenwirth said he would work closely with police and fire agencies to ensure "proper, accurate and professional" investigations. Compassionate and timely death notifications would be a priority, he added, and communication with hospitals, nursing homes, funeral homes and residents needs to increase.


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