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Coroner Greg Hancock responds to Coroner-Elect’s report to Board of Commissioners

The Americus Times Recorder (ATR) reported on the Sumter County Board of Commissioners’ (BOC) meeting on December 8, 2020. As part of the reporting, the ATR covered a conversation held between Coroner-Elect, Clifford Walton’s office and the BOC. Although Walton was present for the meeting, the speaking was done by Mathis Wright, who will serve as the Deputy Coroner upon Walton’s term beginning on January 1, 2021. In his presentation, Wright made several references to current Coroner, Greg Hancock. Hancock is the owner and director of Greg Hancock Funeral Chapel and has served Sumter County as coroner for 20 years.

In an effort to allow Hancock an opportunity to respond to Wright’s statements, the ATR sat down with the coroner to understand the status of the office and his vital role in our community. The first item to be addressed are the needs of the coroner-elect. One of the more costly needs is a body cooler which can contain 3 bodies. Coroner Hancock, in an effort to save county dollars, has been allowing the county to utilize his personal cooler at no cost. The maintenance, upkeep and electricity costs associated with the cooler have also been paid for with Hancock’s personal funds. As can be expected, the cooler is located at The Greg Hancock Funeral Chapel and the county has not had to incur any expenses for the housing of the cooler, nor for office space of Hancock. Additionally, the coroner is available for service 24/7. Hancock incurs the costs of a cell phone for such calls. When Hancock first became the coroner, the yearly budget was approximately $80,000. Since Hancock has been in office, the budget has been maintained at approximately $60,000. This is especially noteworthy as the coroner’s office was additionally tasked with transporting bodies to crime labs, an expense the coroner’s office has absorbed into the budget without costing taxpayers additional dollars.

A body cooler wasn’t the only request made by Deputy Coroner Wright. Wright indicated to the BOC the coroner-elect’s office would have to procure a significant amount of supplies since the outgoing coroner had only a van full of gas and a gurney.  Although Wright indicated this information came from Hancock, Hancock denies haven spoken to the coroner-elect’s office regarding the inventory of the office. Wright made known to the BOC the office would require body bags for children and adults, personal protective equipment, cleaning supplies, death certificates, camera, scanner, a fax/copier machine, file cabinets with locks and a desk. Wright added, “Whatever he may have had in stock or whatever it was, we have no way of knowing. And unless you all kept some type of record about what was being spent or what he may have had or should have had in inventory we have no way of knowing.”  However, when questioned on the items the office owns and will be made available to Walton, Hancock listed: van filled with gas, gurney, body bags for adults and children, water recovery bag, gloves, masks, disaster suit, coveralls, life jacket, Death Investigation Report forms, computer, camera and copier paper. Although Wright indicated the office would need to get death certificates and “pronunciation sheets” copied, Hancock reports death certificates are completed online and he was not familiar with pronunciation sheets, unless Wright was speaking of what Hancock refers to as “Death Investigation Report,” which will be provided. Regarding cleaning supplies, Hancock reports any cleaning at the scene of a death is strictly done by certified bio-hazard personnel and was not the job of the coroner. Hancock also said the office does not own a copier/fax machine as he would utilize his personal property should the need arise.

In addition to requesting office space and space to house a new cooler, Wright also requested a “secretary.”  When questioned by Mark Waddell on the need for such a position, Wright reported there is a lot of information and work that must be filed with the state. Of Hancock’s use of a secretary, Wright said, “I’m not sure how Greg had it set up, whether she was full-time or part-time, but it’s my understanding that he had one.” When the ATR questioned Hancock on the coroner’s office use of a secretary, he reported he has never had a secretary and he does not know what a secretary would be needed for as the paperwork is the direct responsibility of the coroner. Wright reports Georgia legislature will be voting on a bill which would demand the coroner to pick up bodies from nursing homes. This would substantially increase the workload and demand a secretary. According to Hancock the bill has been considered for 5-6 years and has thus far never been passed. Hancock agreed with Waddell’s response of: “The duties and responsibilities that come along with that (the job) fall directly back to the coroner.” Hancock also agreed with Waddell on another point. Wright had stated the coroner’s office doesn’t do research to find the best and most affordable cooler and he laid the responsibility to do so on County Administrators, Rayetta Volley and Janice Jarvis. Waddell strongly disagreed with this assessment and reported elected officials perform their own research for the needs of their office. Hancock reports that in his tenure as coroner, all such decisions/research fell directly on him.

Walton has chosen Mathis Wright as his deputy coroner; Hancock chose two deputy coroners who charge the county by the number of pick-ups they perform. Deputy Coroner James Green is a former Chief of Police for the Americus Police Department and has training in investigations and crime scenes. Deputy Coroner JB Hicks is a former homicide investigator having worked in Americus and retired from the Columbus Police Department. When asked why he chose these gentlemen to serve in the coroner’s office, Hancock remarked “they have the knowledge to do the job and they are credible people.” The coroner or one of his deputies must be available for service 24/7. Hancock reports his average response time to a call is 30 minutes. Hancock reports relationships with law enforcement, including the GBI are especially important to doing a good job as coroner. Hancock reports as coroner, he purposefully leaves as small a print as possible on a crime scene, as investigators need the integrity of the scene preserved. However, the coroner will serve as an invaluable role at the scene of a crime as they can potentially provide evidence in the court system.

Coroner-Elect Walton will take office on midnight of December 31, 2020. Coroner Hancock will retire after 20 years of dedicated service to Sumter County at that same time.