When it comes to dealing with death, the professionals in coroners and medical examiners’ offices face challenges few others deal with on a daily basis.
Greenwood County Coroner Sonny Cox and coroners from area counties are striking an agreement to share a new medical examiner, following the retirement of long-practicing Anderson-area medical examiner Dr. Brett Woodard. Greenwood County Council voted unanimously Tuesday to move forward with an intergovernmental agreement to share a join medical examiner service with other Upstate counties.
The agreement would have Anderson County hiring Dr. Kyle Shaw as the medical examiner for the coroners’ offices, with Abbeville, Greenwood and Oconee counties reimbursing Anderson for Shaw’s services. Anderson County Coroner Greg Shore said Woodard retired after about 30 years as the area’s medical examiner.
“He gave us notice about three years ago that he would be retiring from his PA group. He wanted to stay on and keep working, but didn’t want to keep doing it on a per-case basis.” Shore said. “Well about 6-8 months ago he told us that his wife was wanting to travel and he wanted to spend more time with his family, so we had to search for a new candidate for the agreement.”
That job search led to Shaw, who Shore said will be paid about $180,000 in salary from Anderson County. Abbeville will reimburse Anderson $30,000 a year for his services, Greenwood $25,000 and Oconee $65,000 — Shore said the reimbursement amounts were decided upon to keep each county budget-neutral and affect as little change on their cost of service as possible.
Shaw will travel to the appropriate medical facilities to perform the autopsies, and any travel or material expenses incurred will be paid for by the requesting county.
Paying a flat fee, Cox said, affords Greenwood access to Shaw whenever needed. Even before this agreement, Cox said his office regularly works with other area coroner’s offices to coordinate efforts, lend aid when needed and provide the best available service to the people they all serve.
As coroner, Cox’s job is to identify the person who died and determine the cause and manner of death. After that, it’s the job of a physician, employed as a medical examiner, to perform the autopsy and report his findings to the coroner, who then rules on the cause of death. If forensic analysis is needed, Cox said he can send samples to the State Law Enforcement Division to have them analyzed for toxins or any number of other analyses.
“We all work together to provide people with the best service we can,” he said.
Cox’s background of nearly 30 years as a city police officer and 6 years as a sheriff’s deputy helps him have a working understanding of crime scenes involving death, and he said comes in handy when doing a death investigation. When he left law enforcement, he said he was ready for a job with a different pace, but that still afforded him the ability to help people. A conversation with former coroner Jim Coursey convinced Cox to run in 2012, and he was elected to his second term in 2016.
“I’ve been happy every day since then,” he said. “I’ve really enjoyed serving as coroner in Greenwood County.”