Fort Mill private investigator announces run for coroner

A Fort Mill private investigator wants the York County Coroner's Office to thoroughly research suspicious deaths as an independent office.

Pete Skidmore, who started a private detective agency in 1993, announced Tuesday he'll be joining a former coroner, Jim Chapman, in the Democratic race for the post.

"I think it should be an independent agency," Skidmore said Tuesday after announcing his intentions to file for the post during a press conference at the Morton and Getty's law office in Rock Hill. "The coroner should ... take videos and pictures of these crime scenes and not rely on police to take photos."

Skidmore will face off with Chapman, who has 31 years of pre-hospital emergency medicine experience, in the June 10 primary. Chapman resigned from the county coroner post in 1994 after a decade of service.

So far, interim Coroner Sabrina Gast is unopposed on the Republican ticket.

Gast became coroner in 2006 after then-coroner Doug McKown was suspended by the governor after a grand jury indicted him on drug charges. Gast coordinated the area's Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner program before becoming interim coroner.

McKown, who took over the office from Chapman 14 years ago, has not said whether he'll run for the office again.

Skidmore, who is married with seven children, has investigated more than 75 homicides and handled insurance fraud and divorce cases.

"I have a high integrity level," Skidmore said. "Coroners have to be honest. They're going through people's things. You just need integrity and honesty in that position."

He said his experience investigating murders and other suspicious deaths makes him more qualified than the candidates with backgrounds in the medical field.

Local attorney Jim Morton agrees that Skidmore's experience will help him in his pursuit of the post.

"I support him because he has a lot of experience," Morton said. "He has business experience. He has a lot of experience investigating death cases."

If elected, Skidmore said, he will not be able to continue as a private investigator, and his wife and son would take over his business.

McKown said Tuesday he still hasn't ruled out running for another term, and increased interest in the coroner's seat doesn't concern him.

"Regardless of what I do," he said, "I'm glad to see that there's interest in it and that people are pursuing it because I worked really hard for 15 years to make that an office that people would want to hold."

Gov. Mark Sanford suspended McKown after a police investigation in which officials said they had a video that showed McKown watching as his former girlfriend made a drug deal in York.

Police informants claim McKown gave someone money to buy cocaine and Ecstasy, used the drugs himself and stored cocaine at his Clover home, according to a search warrant. Those charges have yet to be resolved.

Chapman resigned in 1994 after a dispute with the York County Council over hours and salary. The council at the time said Chapman failed to live up to his full-time status after the county raised his salary from $7,000 to $32,000. Six months later, the council cut Chapman's salary and returned the office to part time.

The county coroner's main job is to investigate all unexplained or unattended deaths, including homicides, suicides and accidents. The coroner, who serves a four-year term, also signs death certificates and determines the cause of death.

Candidates for coroner and other county races can file with their party between noon March 16 and noon March 30.