Coroner seeks to address office’s work overload | The Press and Standard
by The Press and Standard | April 19, 2018 5:00 am
Last Updated: April 18, 2018 at 11:50 am
An increasing workload and new federal requirements have Colleton County Coroner Richard Harvey looking to county council for help.
Harvey’s budget request for the coming fiscal year seeks $18,000 to establish a part-time position within the coroner’s office.
He envisions hiring someone, probably someone within the ranks of his volunteer deputy coroners, to provide that help.
Most residents don’t realize that “the coroner’s office works 24-hours a day, seven days a week. Someone is on call 24-hours a day.” That someone is either Harvey or Chief Deputy Coroner Richard Carter.
“Being on call 24 hours a day obviously limits what you can do as far as any outside activities. You have to be in the county.
“The other night,” Harvey said, “my first case, a hospice case, was at 6:30 at night. The second case was at 10:30 at night, third at 2:30 in the morning, the fourth case was at 3:30 in the morning and the fifth case was six in the morning. By time you get back to sleep, phone rings again. It was unusual, but it does happen.”
A 40-hour work week? “As far as I am concerned, that never happens. I still do 450 to 500 hours a month.”
Having Carter to share the workload is a great help, Harvey said. “But we are getting to the point now where we are getting more and more cases.
“In 2014, we did 434 cases,” Harvey said. Three of those cases were homicides, eight were suicides and 18 accidental deaths needed investigation.
In 2015, the number of cases handled by the coroner’s office dropped to 385: one homicide, nine suicides, 18 motor vehicle deaths and eight other accidental deaths.
The drop was an anomaly. “In 2016, we went back up to 424 cases,” Harvey said. They included nine homicides, six suicides, 12 motor vehicle fatalities and 15 other accidental deaths.
“Accidental deaths sometimes can be a drowning or a drug overdose,” he said. “Drug overdoses are considered accidental deaths, as people don’t intend to kill themselves.
“In 2017, we went up to 474 cases, a significant increase of 50 cases,” said Harvey: nine homicides, three suicides, 13 motor vehicle fatalities and seven other accidental deaths.
Harvey expects to see the number of cases to climb again in 2018. “As of April 10, we’ve done 143 cases so far. We are going to do over 500 cases if we continue at that rate.”
“We have had eight homicides already this year, six suicides, three motor vehicle fatalities and nine other accidental deaths,” he added.
When the death investigation involves homicides and traffic fatalities, Harvey said, “the minimum time frame is going to be four hours. You get everything situated, get the body where its supposed to be and then start the process of trying to find the family.”
New federal regulations are also going to increase the coroner’s office workload by requiring the office to maintain evidence and information after a case has been finished and any possible court proceedings have been completed.
“That is part of the reason I am asking for a part-time person,” Harvey said. “I would like a little bit of relief from all those hours we are on call.
“If we can have a third beginning investigator, as well as taking over that evidence control, I think that would be a big benefit for us.”