News and Tribune

October 25, 2012

Full fields for coroner’s post in Clark, Floyd counties

Newcomer will replace Coots in Clark; incumbent Knable faces challenge in Floyd


> SOUTHERN INDIANA — Clark County Coroner

The Clark County Coroner’s race is being contested by a New Chapel firefighter-paramedic and a New Albany Police Department officer.

The victor Nov. 6 will replace incumbent Edwin “Huck” Coots, who is not eligible to run for a third-consecutive term. A member of the Coots family has held the office since 1888, except for two years in the late 1920s. The position has an annual salary of $12,344 and a four-year term.

John Hall

Democrat John Hall, 41, of Clarksville, is a sergeant with NAPD and works as an assistant-shift commander. Hall said he has gained experience in his 16 years with the department that will help him serve as Clark County’s next coroner.

“I feel like I am very qualified for the position and having worked with coroners in the past, I feel like it is important to have a qualified person in that position,” he said. “If you get an unqualified person in that position there are a lot of problems dealing with law enforcement, dealing with the medical community and things of that nature.”

He said when family members are dealing with the recent death of a loved one, they want the most highly-qualified person available to provide guidance in their time of need.

“Someone’s death is a very important thing to have to deal with,” Hall said.

Hall also said he brings strong leadership abilities that have already been recognized through his affiliation with the Indiana Fraternal Order of Police. He has been elected on several occasions as president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 99 in New Albany. Hall added he was selected among 120 candidates across the state as the FOP President of the Year in 2012

He said his commitment to his duties with NAPD would not interfere with his role of coroner. Hall said he would typically call upon his deputy coroners to respond to death calls that arise when he is on duty at the department.

Hall said he hopes to continue the standard of service Clark County residents have benefited from in the last 100 years.

“The coroner’s office in Clark County has ran well for over a century, and there is no need to disrupt something that has been running well,” he said.

Of the two paid deputy coroners that the elected coroner can appoint, Hall said he will keep one of the deputies on staff and replace the retiring deputy with Coots.

Coots added Hall to the coroner’s staff late last year as an unpaid deputy coroner after he decided to run in the current election, Hall said. While serving as a deputy coroner, Hall said he has undergone mandated training to become a coroner and become familiar with the office duties.

“I will be able to hit the ground running,” Hall said.

He said having Coots on board would provide him direct access to a valuable resource of extensive experience and knowledge.

“Huck and I, we work well together,  and between my knowledge in law enforcement and his knowledge in the coroner side of things, I don’t think there are many things we can’t handle expeditiously and appropriately,” Hall said.

Coots was asked if he made the same offer to serve as deputy coroner to Hall’s opposition, Terry Conway, and he said it is “too soon to tell.”

Terry Conway

Jeffersonville resident and Republican candidate Terry Conway, 43, said his experience has prepared him to serve as Clark County’s next coroner. For the past eight years, Conway has served as a full-time, paid paramedic-firefighter at New Chapel Fire and New Chapel EMS in New Albany. Conway also works as a paramedic at Utica Volunteer Fire Department.

The desire to serve his community as an emergency responder, often times at no pay, comes natural to Conway.

“I have always been a big Clark County volunteer,” he said.

Conway said the position as Clark County coroner is the most sensible public office for him to use his skills to serve the community.

“I think it is the closest thing I can do to my profession for the Clark County community,” he said. “It is my way of giving back to the county.”

Conway volunteers as a deputy coroner in Washington County. He also holds the titles of certified fire investigator, certified fire death investigator and hazardous material technician.

“I have dealt with families coping with the loss of a loved one on a career level,” he said. “I have dealt with it more than most people ever will in their life.”

Conway said he believes that his professional experience makes him better prepared than his opposition to serve as the county’s next coroner.

“I think I have a better understanding of anatomy and physiology from my advanced training as a paramedic technician,” Conway said.

Conway said he has the ability go beyond the technical aspects of the job’s functions.

“The ability to provide a fair, concise and accurate investigation,” he said of his skill set. “The ability to be empathetic to a family’s needs during the loss of a loved one.”

The 2012 coroner’s race is not the first time Conway has thrown his hat in an election. He ran in 2010 for Clark County Recorder, but lost to Richard P. “Dickie” Jones. Conway said by running on the Republican ticket he hopes to implement monetary policies that he feels are congruent with the GOP platform.

“I am trying to do what I can to bring the county back to fiscal responsibility,” Conway said. “That is the same goal for all Republican candidates.”

Floyd County Coroner

The Floyd County Coroner race poses incumbent Democrat Leslie Knable against Republican Thomas Sonne. Knable is a licensed veterinarian with has a doctorate of veterinary medicine, and Sonne is a doctor who has a private practice working as a surgeon. The position has an annual salary of $13,692 and a four-year term.

Leslie Knable

Knable, 49, is finishing up her first term and is seeking a second.

“I really believe that this job is just as much about the living as it is the dead, maybe more,” Knable said.

She said one of her strongest attributes as a coroner is her ability to console grieving families that have recently lost a loved one. While she has responded to deaths resulting from drowning, aircraft crashes, automobile accidents and murders, Knable said about 90 percent of the death calls she has responded to are those who have died from natural causes.

She said families often don’t know what the first step is after a relative has died, and her degree in grief counseling has been just as useful in her coroner duties as the medical background she received during her eight years of study while earning her doctorate in veterinarian medicine. Knable also said her license as a funeral director is something she leans upon — although she is not affiliated with any funeral home — when tending to family members who find themselves facing the unfamiliar task of preparing a loved one to be sent to a funeral home.  

“That gives me a great background to help people,” she said. “I am really knowledgeable about helping people about what they need to do to prepare to go to a funeral home.”

Knable said her record shows she has gone to great lengths to comfort grieving family members.

“I think the coroner is a public servant, and I am there to serve the families,” she said. “I go above and beyond the call of duty.”

Knable and her husband are both veterinarians and own Blackiston Mill Animal Clinic. She said her duties providing services to area pets have taken a back seat to her work as an elected Floyd County official.

“I really consider myself a full-time coroner,” Knable said.

As Floyd County coroner, she appoints and oversees three deputy coroners who she can call upon to go to a death scene if she is unavailable. She said that over the course of her first term, she has respond to most deaths in the county — about 900 — excluding about 30 calls, which she allocated to her deputies.

“I feel like it is my responsibility to go because I was the one elected,” she said.

She said the network with officials she has fostered over the course of her term will help her continue to serve the public in the future.

“One of the biggest things is establishing professional relationships,” Knable said of the position. “I work as part of a team with detectives, firefighters, emergency-management personnel, conservation officers and the health department. It takes years to get those contacts.”

While Knable said the position of coroner takes a physical and emotional toll, she finds the work rewarding.

“I can’t think of a better way to serve my community,” Knable said. “It is the most satisfying, gratifying job you can have.”

Thomas Sonne

Sonne, 61, of Floyds Knobs, is hoping his experience working as a medical doctor in New Albany for the past 35 years will help voters select him as the next Floyd County coroner. Sonne said the position has not been filled by a medical doctor for nearly four decades, and it is time to put the right person on the job.

“Most of coroners in the past 10 years are all good people, but I think they just feel lost in some of the situations they get into. It would be nice if all the coroners in the country could be physicians,” he said.

He said a medical doctor can provide a higher level of service than those who have not practiced medicine on humans.

“I think it is a huge difference,” he said. “[In] about half the states you have to be a doctor to be coroner. You deal with things, I think, only a medical doctor can understand and see. To me, it is critical.”

He said having a medical doctor serving in Floyd County would raise the level of professionalism and accountability of the job. As a practicing physician, Sonne said he served as the chief of staff and chief of surgery at Floyd Memorial Hospital and health services, but now works as a self-employed surgeon.

“I did emergency medicine for several years and later performed surgery. There were a lot of life and death situations,” he said.

He said his experience dealing with death and the families left to cope will help him serve as a coroner.

Sonne said he has a vast network of friends and acquaintances whom he would be working with as coroner.

“I have a lot of connections in the law enforcement community, through professional and social interactions,” he said.

Sonne said he is now at an ideal time in his life to take on the role of coroner.

“I have been cutting back on work, so the timing is good,” he said.

Sonne sells himself as a local guy who has put time in helping people and is ready to give something back.

“It [the position] doesn’t pay much, it is more of a position that should be filled by the right person,” he said. “After practicing in town for 35 years, I felt I wanted to do something for the community.”