Fort Mill Times

Fort Mill residents vie for coroner's position

Experience matters when it comes to choosing a coroner, according to S.C. Sheriff's Association Executive Director Jeff Moore.

With that in mind, two local candidates for the office are relying on theirs to win over voters this November.

Incumbent Republican Sabrina Gast was appointed to the office in September 2006, following the suspension of then-coronor Doug McKown. A registered nurse since 1992, Gast has a master's degree in forensic nursing, is a certified ER nurse and has been certified by the American Board of Medicolegal Death Investigators.

Gast had not worked with the coroner's office before, but had assisted the Rock Hill Police Department for five years. She takes 86 hours of continuing education each year through the S.C. Coroner's Association.

"I made some changes to increase the professionality of the office and tried to correct some of the things of the past," she said. "I want to keep moving in the direction we've started."

Gast, a Fort Mill High School graduate, said the medical expertise she brings to the office, which is responsible for investigating and determining the causes of suspicious deaths, homicides, suicides and natural deaths outside of hospitals, is a plus. She also has experience with drug reactions that can help determine a cause of death in some cases.

However, Democrat Pete Skidmore thinks his 15 years as a private investigator, during which he worked on 75 death penalty cases, is better preparation for the job.

Among many high-profile cases he worked on, Skidmore uncovered new evidence that led a murder conviction against Clover resident Sterling Spann being thrown out. Spann spent 17 years on death row and later reached a plea deal with the York County Solicitor's Office. He is now free.

"Prior to Ms. Gast's time, I ran across several cases I felt should have been looked at harder from the coroner's position," he said.

Skidmore, a Clover native who moved to Fort Mill 15 years ago, has a track record of investigating old cases. His work helped overturn the first federal death penalty case in the state when the U.S. Supreme Court threw out the conviction of Bobby Holmes. Many other defendants were acquitted on self defense based on his work.

"There's really never been, as long as I've been here, someone with an investigative background in the coroner's office," he said.

Because the office overlaps with law enforcement, Moore said, a good relationship between the two is important. Investigative experience is important, too.

"Not up in your neck of the woods, but we have had a death ruled an accident and when they rolled the body over there was a knife in the back," he said.

Moore doesn't know either candidate, but said both seem to have good resumés.