McKown's off-duty record all but erases his good work on the job

Nobody believes in second chances, or sometimes even more, as much as I.

Doug McKown could have sailed off quietly with his new lease on life after his acquittal on drug charges. But York County's coroner has run out of chances. With everybody.

McKown, thankfully, said Tuesday he is quitting. Jail time for allegedly violating probation last week when he was in North Carolina in his county vehicle seems possible.

This is a most public of public figures who loved to talk about himself almost in a way that big-time jocks do -- "Lemme tell you what I did!" Bigshot jock media sits at their stinking athletic feet and compete to idolize and lionize them.

Sought attention

Like a sportsman, for years McKown gave interviews to any and all who would sit still long enough to hear him. Yet, McKown actually did things to help people. He modernized his office, for one.

Cotton Howell, York County director of emergency management, worked with McKown in New York after the Sept. 11 attacks. Both were federal employees of the most elite team of forensic mortuary people in this country. Then in Georgia after hundreds of bodies were found in a crematorium. Then in Mississippi and Louisiana after Katrina.

Before all of it, in 1999, in eastern North Carolina, where Howell recalled the snakes and the stink of death: "I have pictures of Doug in a swamp up to his waist, trying to get to bodies."

McKown was trying to identify remains of those from cemeteries swept away by the floodwaters of Hurricane Floyd. Doing great work for people in a crisis, so many times.

"He was a workhorse," Howell said.

That absolves McKown of nothing. He until now has been a defiant, at times flamboyant, advocator of himself.

"Unlike me, he's an elected official," Howell said. "To keep his job, he has to put himself out in front of people."

True, but McKown was more than out front. He sought notoriety, the spotlight, wanting everyone to know that he was a big guy.

When former Gov. David Beasley was running for the U.S. Senate in 2004, he stumped in Rock Hill one morning. McKown, Beasley's first state appointee years earlier, helped with the event at the VFW. McKown wore his military cap and worked the room like an admiral showing off a new aircraft carrier.

Beasley was slaughtered by Jim DeMint in a primary runoff. McKown made it a bit longer before judicial, political and now public-opinion knives cut his throat.

McKown was a good friend to many: Howell said he considers McKown a friend still. The current situation, "saddens me," said Howell, who knows and respects McKown's family, too.

It should sadden anybody, myself included, who saw through McKown's faults to a guy who did some outstanding work.

"The person I see in the paper is not the guy I worked professionally with," Howell said.

That now, like McKown's Gulf War military service, may almost be like all of it never happened.

Few, after all of this, will be willing to throw McKown a rope. Especially not a guy from Fort Mill named Larry Huntley.

Huntley's daughter was shot to death in 2001 after an argument with her husband, James Motz. There was a dispute between Larry Huntley and the coroner's office about how she died, who was responsible. No criminal charges were ever filed.

A civil jury in January 2007 awarded $25,000 in damages to Larry Huntley in a wrongful death lawsuit against James Motz.

McKown, when saying he was resigning, said "acknowledging you are not a perfect person is one of the hardest things in the world to do." He admitted he had faults, made mistakes.

Huntley, a Fort Mill Town Council member since last May, said Wednesday about McKown's resignation: "He said nobody's perfect, and he said a mouthful there."

"He ought to be put in jail for being stupid."

McKown even demanded attention just two months ago when a jury found him not guilty on charges of selling dope. His lone conviction was for possession of half a Viagra pill.

After his acquittal on the drug-selling charges, McKown days later walked back into the coroner's office like a king returning from exile. He considered a write-in candidacy in November's coroner election.

Close your eyes and Napoleon has escaped Elba.

"I have returned!"

No more.

What happened to Napoleon is he tried to take over Europe, lost, and finally left forever to exile again. McKown had a chance to be almost invisible after his trial. But now McKown's fate lies in a judge's hands, not his own.