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In York County coroner's race, Gast, Skidmore locked in debate over ethics of off-duty services

York County interim coroner Sabrina Gast promises to bring dignity, integrity and trust to the coroner's office if voters elect her to the post Tuesday. Her challenger, Democrat Pete Skidmore, says he will, too.

Gast wants to step up office professionalism and make sure deputy coroners attend continuing education classes. Skidmore wants to accompany deputy coroners on every death call to gauge how they work.

But Skidmore, a 15-year Fort Mill private investigator, contends Gast, a Republican, can't make good on promises of integrity and trust when she's earning money from the city of Rock Hill, York County and her nursing consulting business -- something he says is a violation of state ethics law.

Gast says she's done nothing wrong.

"I have not hidden anything," Gast said. "I have always been open about my nursing and teaching. I don't consider what I did triple-dipping."

In September 2006, Gast was appointed interim coroner by Gov. Mark Sanford after then-Coroner Doug McKown was arrested on drug charges.

Before Gast's appointment, she was coordinator for Rock Hill's SANE, Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner, a city of Rock Hill post she held for nearly seven years.

"Once I was appointed, I stepped down from being the coordinator, but I did some on-call shifts while they were searching for my replacement," she said.

From September 2006 to February 2007, Gast worked as an on-call nurse for SANE while working as the interim coroner. Skidmore has a problem with that.

"She never really left," Skidmore said about Gast, who also teaches city-paid nursing classes.

But Gast hasn't violated any ethics laws, according to the State Ethics Commission.

The Ethics Commission gave Gast the green light to continue with her nursing duties. A letter dated Oct. 31, 2006, shows that the commission found the Ethics Reform Act would not prohibit Gast "as the coroner from engaging in off-duty employment as a forensic nurse for sexual assault and domestic violence victims coordinated with the Rock Hill Police Department."

As for Gast's nursing consultant business, another letter from the commission dated May 19, 2008, states the Ethics Reform Act would not prohibit Gast "as coroner from engaging in off-duty employment to provide training for nurses who wish to become a sexual assault nurse examiner."

Gast completes yearly state ethics commission forms dissecting how much and from which state and local agencies she receives income. A form dated April 8, 2008, shows that Gast noted she received $58,269 for the coroner's post. That form did not list any other money received; however, it noted Gast's nursing consultant business.

An amended form filed in September included $1,500 in income for city of Rock Hill nursing training.

"Sixteen years ago, (York) County Council told (then Coroner) Jim Chapman that he was a full-time coroner and he had to choose between the coroner's office and EMS at Piedmont (Medical Center)," Skidmore said. "How is it that we have come from there to where we are that someone can have three different jobs, two of which involve taxpayers' dollars and the third is her private consulting business?"

If elected, Skidmore plans to turn his investigating company over to his wife and oldest son, Peter. His investigation license expires Nov. 29, he said.

"I don't want the perception to ever be out there that I have anything to do with that investigative office," he said.

The coroner serves a four-year term and earns $64,541 annually.

Meet the York County coroner candidates

Sabrina Gast

• Age: 38; born Jan. 1, 1970

• Education: Bachelor's degree in nursing from Clemson University; master's degree in forensic nursing from Duquesne University of Pittsburgh

• Career: Appointed as York County interim coroner in September 2006. Formerly served as coordinator with SANE (Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner), a post she held for seven years.

• Family: Husband, John Gast; son, Joshua, and daughter, Jordan

• Political experience: No previous political experience

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Peter "Pete" Skidmore

• Age: 46; born Nov. 13, 1961

• Education: Graduated from Clover High School and attended Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte

• Career: Owner and operator of Skidmore & Associates, a Fort Mill private investigation firm

• Family: Wife, Teresa; sons, Peter, Alex and Zach; and daughters, Ashley, Anna, Mary-Grace and Grayson

• Political experience: No previous political experience

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