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Lake Wylie resident to challenge Gast for York County coroner

A Gaston County, N.C., native and Lake Wylie resident will run for York County coroner against incumbent Sabrina Gast.

Donald Blanton, 46, of Hamilton Bay Court in Lake Wylie, will face Gast, 42, in June’s Republican Party primary, he said Thursday.

Blanton moved to York County in October 2011, but spent a lot of time in Clover and Lake Wylie growing up, he said.

Candidates running for the office of coroner must have residency in the county for at least one year before the November general election, said Wanda Hemphill, York County’s director of registration and elections.

Blanton works at Home Instead Senior Care in Gastonia, N.C., as a quality assurance coordinator overseeing three North Carolina counties.

A licensed paramedic with 25 years’ experience in the emergency medical field, Blanton also is a certified death investigator at the diplomat level with the American Board of Medicolegal Death Investigators.

Blanton said Thursday he has a “calling” to be a coroner. Several years ago, he went to Las Vegas for training with the plan to move back east, he said.

In Las Vegas, he was trained in homicide investigation, mass casualties, child deaths, suicides, natural deaths and forensics, while working for an office that dealt with 12,000 death cases a year, he said.

His experience working in supervisory and administrative capacities both as a paramedic and now qualify him for the job, he said.

“I have the management experience to run the office, coroner experience in the field, and compassion to deal with people,” he said.

Blanton commended Gast on doing “an excellent job. Compared to where the coroner’s office was to where it is today, she’s brought a lot of professionalism in the office that maybe wasn’t there before,” he said.

If elected, he hopes to build on her programs and implement new ones, including public education initiatives, he said. He said he’d be willing to lower his first-year salary to pay for more training for coroner’s office employees or to fund public programs.

Gast welcomed Blanton to the race Thursday, saying, “The great thing about living in America is as long as you’re qualified for the position, you have a right to run for it.”

But she also hopes in June that “voters remember what I’ve done for the county and all the families that we’ve worked with,” she said.

Former Gov. Mark Sanford appointed Gast coroner in 2006, after then-Coroner Doug McKown’s indictment on felony drug charges, of which he was later acquitted.

Gast beat a Democratic challenger in November 2008 to serve the four-year term.

Restoring the community’s confidence in the coroner’s office was a “major goal” when she was appointed in 2006, and one she feels she’s accomplished, Gast said Thursday.

“Community members feel confident that things are handled appropriately within the office, and investigations are being taken seriously,” she said.

Advancing the training and certification of her deputy coroners was another goal she achieved, Gast said. Her deputy coroners are nationally certified at diplomat level, one of two levels of certification, she said.

Gast has the advanced level certification through the board, which is “rare” in South Carolina, she said, because it requires a four-year degree and additional training and practice in the field.

She has started community education programs to prevent accidental deaths and a program in which volunteers help grieving families in the days after a loved one’s death.

Gast, a nurse with 15 years’ experience in trauma and forensics, volunteers as a sexual assault nurse for York County, a program she helped create more than a decade ago.

The York County native said Thursday this is her community.

“I have a very strong connection to this community. I care what happens to people,” she said. “I hope members of the community think that I have served them well, and I will continue to do so.”