McKown won't seek re-election

Suspended York County Coroner Doug McKown announced Wednesday that he won't seek re-election.

The news, first reported Wednesday afternoon at heraldonline.com, came two days after the state attorney general's office confirmed the 39-year-old McKown has a scheduled trial date for the three drug charges from 2006.

"You come to a point whenever you realize that there's far more important things to worry about ... than a political race," McKown said. "That's where I'm at with this thing. I can lay my head on my pillow tonight and know that I'm walking away from an office that will forever bear the fruits of what we put there over the years."

McKown's statement closes a door that he'd left open until Wednesday. As recently as Monday, he said he hadn't ruled out another run for coroner, the post he was appointed to in December 1994 when the former coroner stepped down.

Then 27, McKown was the youngest coroner in the state at the time of his appointment. A Republican, he was elected to a full term in 1996. He was re-elected in 2000 and 2004.

While in office, McKown's main job was to investigate all unexplained or unattended deaths, including homicides, suicides and accidents. He also signed death certificates and determined causes of death.

But McKown also distinguished himself as a member of FEMA's Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Teams. He helped identify the remains of the dead in the aftermath of disasters such as Hurricane Katrina along the Gulf Coast and the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

But his career began to unravel in May 2006, when McKown was arrested after authorities said they videotaped him watching his former girlfriend, Erin Jenkins, sell cocaine in York.

Police informants claim that McKown gave Jenkins money to buy cocaine and Ecstasy, that he used the drugs himself and that he stored cocaine at his Clover home, according to a search warrant.

Gov. Mark Sanford suspended McKown from office on July 21, 2006, a day after a grand jury indicted him on charges of distribution of a controlled substance, unlawful possession of a controlled substance and unlawful possession of a prescription drug.

A May 19 trial date has been scheduled for McKown. If convicted of all three charges, McKown could face more than 17 years in prison and $26,500 in fines.

Amid the struggles of his criminal case, McKown also dealt with unrelated ethics violations.

McKown admitted the violations in January 2007, moments before his state Ethics Commission hearing was to begin. He later signed a consent order, admitting to four violations of using his public office for personal gain and using his county vehicle for noncoroner business.

The Ethics Commission issued McKown a public reprimand and fined him $1,000.

Although he won't run for office this year, McKown said he's not resigning. He said his service has been above reproach.

"I'm proud of what's been accomplished there," he said of the coroner's office. "I think it's a good legacy for me to leave there. That's the only thing that makes this part of politics any easier."

But this certainly is not the way he wanted his term to end.

"It's not all bad," he said. "It certainly is sad."