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Standards tightened for pistol-packing volunteer deputy coroners

New requirements for volunteer deputy coroners

St. Clair County Coroner Calvin Dye Sr. has established new requirements for becoming a volunteer deputy coroner.
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St. Clair County Coroner Calvin Dye Sr. has established new requirements for becoming a volunteer deputy coroner.

Serving as an unpaid St. Clair County deputy coroner doesn’t actually mean showing up at grisly crash scenes to officially pronounce victims dead. That’s left to trained, paid deputy coroners.

But there are advantages: A volunteer deputy coroner gets to carry a concealed firearm and a deputy coroner’s ID. They are supposed to be at the ready to help during large catastrophes.

After decades of qualifying for the mostly honorary title — by being named by the coroner, being asked to kick in $100 or so for a political banquet ticket and attending annual training — obtaining the ID will be more difficult under newly elected Coroner Calvin Dye Sr.

Dye, a Democrat, said that while he did send out two $100 political banquet tickets to potential supporters during the campaign, including current volunteer deputy coroners, there is no political obligation associated with holding the title. He raised at least $50,000, according to state election department records.

“There is nothing political to it,” he said, “I might send out a thousand letters and 150 might respond,” he said. “Politics has nothing to do with it.”

However, there will be new requirements for carrying the ID.

Under Dye, unpaid or “commissioned” deputy coroners will still be given IDs to assist in situations where there are multiple dead due to a natural disaster like a tornado or earthquake or victims of an airliner crash or terrorism. But each deputy coroner who chooses to carry a gun will be required to qualify once a year with their firearm through the Southwestern Illinois Law Enforcement Commission training academy. Dye said this training will be provided free of cost.

“If they want to carry they have to get requalified every year,” Dye said.

Other requirements include:

Submitting to a one-time criminal background check similar to the one required for county employees.

Successfully undergoing one-time drug screening.

Attending an annual training session.

“These people represent the county and therefore should conduct themselves with professionalism and be properly trained,” said Dye, who spent nearly three decades with the Illinois State Police in criminal investigations and achieved the rank of master sergeant.

Dye has caused concern among the roughly 75 volunteer deputy coroners, approved by the late county coroner Rick Stone, who died in November after a long illness. Some have held a deputy coroner’s ID for decades.

The deputy coroner commissions drew headlines in the early 1990s when Stone was charged with back-dating a judicial order to add 30 deputy coroners to the list. Stone was acquitted in 1992 by a jury that returned in less than an hour.

Stone, a Democrat, required an annual one-day training session each December that was usually conducted on the fifth floor of the County Building, and the volunteer deputies were to be in readiness for a natural disaster or other catastrophe. Dye said he may continue the annual training requirement or may change it to once every two years, but he said a background check, drug screening and annual firearms qualification must be followed.

Instead of the usual notice to attend the annual training in December, current deputy coroners received no notification until recently, when the new requirements were outlined in a letter to 25 deputy coroner ID holders. Dye said he wants 75 volunteer deputies but will notify just 25 at a time so there won’t be a backlog of criminal background-checking or drug-testing. He declined to turn over a list of current volunteer deputy coroners but said when his list is completed he will make it public.

Charles G. Kurrus, owner of the Kurrus Funeral Home in Belleville, said he has held a volunteer deputy coroner’s ID for 40 years but never used it to carry a concealed firearm.

“The primary purpose of the cards was if there was a catastrophe or disaster situation, then a funeral director’s knowledge could come in handy,” he said.

In Madison County, Coroner Steve Nonn said he has 41 volunteer deputy coroners who he calls “reserve deputy coroners,” and like St. Clair County, they are expected to help out in situations where there are large numbers of dead through natural disasters, crashes or terrorism attacks.

All are connected to the funeral home business, Nonn said, except for a few who have skills such as forensic anthropology or one woman deputy coroner who owns a trained cadaver dog. None are allowed to carry a firearm through their title of deputy coroner, he said.

All receive training through classes often conducted by the eight full-time deputy coroners who work for Nonn’s office.

George Pawlaczyk: 618-239-2625, @gapawlaczyk

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