Gast renamed interim coroner

Just two months after York County Coroner Doug McKown resumed his elected post, the woman he replaced will again do his job.

As first reported at heraldonline.com Tuesday afternoon, Gov. Mark Sanford has appointed Sabrina Gast to serve as interim coroner, starting today.

"She'd been in there for a long period of time and, by all accounts, she did a great job," said Sanford spokesman Joel Sawyer. "We just thought it made sense that, since she was willing, to let her return to that post."

Gast, 38, was interim coroner from September 2006 until June, when McKown returned to office after he was acquitted of felony cocaine charges. But McKown announced his resignation last month after he was arrested in North Carolina on charges of drinking while driving and having an open container in the vehicle.

Authorities said McKown was driving a county vehicle when he was arrested and traveling with a man suspected of smoking crack cocaine. His term expires at the end of the year.

"I am a believer that everything happens for a reason," Gast said when asked about the changes over the past two months. "It's given me time to focus on my campaign, and time to reflect and really think about serving in this position and that that's the right thing for me."

Since McKown returned, Gast said she'd worked with the local Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner program, the same job she had before being appointed coroner the first time. She also said she'd worked on her campaign for the coroner's office.

Gast, a Republican, will face Democrat Pete Skidmore in the November election. With the remaining months of this term, she's anticipating working with the public and the coroner's office staff again.

And, she said, "bringing integrity back to that office and professionalism."

Skidmore, a private investigator from Fort Mill, disagreed with Sanford's decision, calling it "politically motivated."

"To dump the office upside down again for an eight-week period just baffles me," he said. "It's beyond me."

Sanford should have allowed chief deputy coroner David Chambers to run the office until a new coroner is elected, Skidmore said, noting that Chambers has more experience handling those duties than both Gast and himself.

As for McKown, he said Sanford's choice wasn't a surprise.

"Having been a political appointee myself in my first term, I think that it's what happens in today's political society," said Mc-Kown, who was first appointed to the post in 1994. "The Republicans have a candidate in Sabrina Gast, and that's the smart move for the Republican Party to make. ... I don't have anything bad to say about the decision or anything bad to say about me leaving. I'm leaving on my own terms, and I'm satisfied with that."

But the 39-year-old has problems beyond the North Carolina charges. Later this month, he'll go before a judge to learn if prison is in his future.

McKown was sentenced to a year's probation after being convicted in May of unlawfully possessing a prescription drug, a misdemeanor charge tied to a half-pill of Viagra police found in his home.

His probation agent claims the coroner lied to probation officials about his North Carolina arrest, didn't immediately notify an agent about his arrest and left the state without permission, among other violations.

If a judge decides McKown violated his probation, he could be forced to serve a year in prison.