Candidates tout experience for Lake County coroner post
Lake County Coroner Artis Yancey. | Thomas Delany Jr.~Sun-Times Media
Updated: April 2, 2012 8:15AM
Experience comes by the truckload in both parties in the race for Lake County coroner.
On the Democratic side, appointed incumbent Coroner Artis Yancey, former Waukegan police chief, is facing off against Dr. Thomas Rudd of Lake Forest who is a physician, surgeon and board-certified pathologist who would like to see the office changed into an appointed position.
In the Republican primary, Steve Newton of unincorporated Antioch, is running on his past experience as a chief deputy coroner in the Coroner’s Office. He faces Dr. Howard Cooper of Bannockburn, a dentist practicing in Gurnee who is also a forensic dentist.
The Republican race has been quiet, but in the Democratic contest, Rudd charged Yancey resigned as Waukegan police chief in disgrace and that he was asked to resign. Yancey denies that, saying he resigned in July 2010 because he had enough time in for full retirement.
“That’s a deplorable and despicable approach to not speaking to the issues,” said Yancey, 52, of Waukegan who had more than 20 years of service logged in the police department. He was chosen by the Lake County Board to take over as coroner after Dr. Richard Keller resigned following a plea bargain concerning prescription drugs given to a client at a methodone clinic.
At that time, Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran took over and called the office “a ship that needed righting” because of sloppy bookkeeping, unlabeled evidence and other problems. Rudd said he was also considered for the job at that time.
“A lot of changes need to be put into place in the office,” Yancey said of his appointment and through his leadership and direction he said he has put the office on the right path as an effective and compassionate county agency.
The office now has a new evidence tracking system and he said he is looking at being an accredited office by the National Association of Medical Examiners. He said backlogs dating back to 2008 are gone now.
“I see nothing but good things in the future,” Yancy said, including more education about heroin and other substance abuse problems and suicide issues. He wants to use the county’s access to public television to make public service announcements on those issues, besides going out to the schools to talk to students.
Rudd, 65, feels the accreditation issue if the biggest problem and he would push the office toward becoming a medical examiner’s office, which is an appointed position.
“If we remove the office from politics we could save some money,” he said. “This office has never been run by a pathologist,” said the retired physician and surgeon.
He believes all the deputy corners need to be certified and while Yancy said he going to do it, “they’ve yet to file an application,” said Rudd, who once ran unsuccessfully for North Shore Sanitary District trustee. He is board certified in pathology and nuclear medicine.
“Being certified by the national board will tell you where you are deficient and need to work on it. It’s teaching, not punishment,” he said.
Rudd also believes he would provide more compassion to the families.
“Who do you want to drive to your door: A physician with 33 years of experience or a disgraced cop whose been in office 10 months,” Rudd said, referring to an incident after Yancey retired where he was involved in a domestic dispute with another police officer and that officer’s ex-wife.
Republican candidate Steve Newton, 38, currently works as a court security officer in Lake County. He was chief deputy coroner until former coroner Dr. Richard Keller forced him out for inappropriate relationship with a fellow worker, who is now his wife.
He said after he left the office they “totally disregarded policies. It was upsetting to me because we worked so hard on doing it right,” he said. Newton said the lack of service to family members of the dead is lacking, such as not allowing funeral directors to pick up a body over the weekend so family members could plan the service.
“It tugged at my heart strings,” he said. Newton said a medical examiner’s office is a bad idea and only exists in Cook County.
“You need public accountability. I don’t like taking power away from the people,” said the former paramedic, state-certified evidence technician who also has college credit in criminal justice. “I want to bring back integrity and compassion to the office,” he said.
Cooper, 45, said if he is nominated as the Republican candidate he would have to change the hours of his dental practice a little bit. He would not give up his practice.
“The major problem in the coroner’s office is how they are treating people,” he said. “We want to make sure they are treating them with respect and compassion.” He also thinks the office can be used for death prevention with education outreach. He said deputies need certification and continuing education.
Cooper said his experience as a business owner would help keep tabs on the coroner budget. He also worked in forensic dentistry, serving on a team that went to New York City after 9/11 to help identify victims of the terrorist attacks, and he went to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina where he worked in body recovery and decontamination as part of the Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team. He is also certified for hazardous material handling, just like a firefighter.
“Another thing I bring to the table if anything big ever happened, I know who to call and what’s involved because I’ve done it,” said Cooper.