Opinion

2 to file for York County coroner

Two candidates have thrown their names in the hat for York County coroner, a race that could be joined by a man suspended from that office two years ago.

Jim Chapman, who resigned from the county's coroner post 14 years ago, announced Tuesday he plans to run for the seat again. Chapman served as county coroner for a decade before stepping down in 1994. He plans to run on the Democratic ticket.

He'll join interim Coroner Sabrina Gast in the pursuit for the position. Gast became coroner in 2006 after then-coroner Doug McKown was suspended by the governor after a grand jury indicted him on drug charges.

Gast said Tuesday she will be running on the Republican side for coroner in the November general election. If Chapman or Gast is challenged, a primary election will be June 10.

Chapman, from the Lesslie area outside Rock Hill, stepped down from his post as coroner in December 1994 after a pay dispute with the York County Council. McKown replaced him, spending the next decade as coroner before Gov. Mark Sanford suspended him after a police investigation in which officials said they had a video that showed McKown watching as his former girlfriend made a drug deal in York. Police informants claim McKown gave Jenkins money to buy cocaine and Ecstasy, used the drugs himself and stored cocaine at his Clover home, according to a search warrant. Those charges have yet to be resolved.

McKown said Tuesday he hasn't ruled out the possibility of running for coroner again.

The county coroner's main job is to investigate all unexplained or unattended deaths, including homicides, suicides and accidents. The coroner, who serves a four-year term, also signs death certificates and determines the cause of death.

Chapman has 31 years of experience in pre-hospital emergency medicine and has served as a state constable for 10 years. He said he wants to serve the people of York County again.

"I still love the work. It's rewarding. It's challenging," he said. "I have a lot to offer. I have more education in medicine and law enforcement since I left. I miss the work and the people."

He resigned after a dispute with York County Council over hours and salary. The council at the time said Chapman failed to live up to his full-time status after the county raised his salary from $7,000 to $32,000. Six months later, the council cut Chapman's salary and returned the office to part time.

"The County Council and I reached an impasse," Chapman said Tuesday. "Rather than be detrimental to the coroner's office, I felt it best to step down."

Chapman now works security at the Belk corporate office in Charlotte. He said he doesn't have any plans for immediate changes to the office if elected.

Gast, a Fort Mill native, coordinated the area's Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner program before becoming interim coroner. Since she was appointed, she's said she wanted to run for the office this year.

When reached on his cell phone Tuesday afternoon, McKown left open to the possibility of running for another term.

"Right now, it's not totally out of the question," he said. "I think I'm just going to leave it at that."

McKown wouldn't elaborate on his statement. A longtime Republican, McKown also wouldn't say if he would run with the GOP or another party.

When asked why he would consider running, given his legal situation, he said, "I think that's probably why it's not out of the question."

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

McKown admitted the violations in January, 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.

Those interested in running for coroner can file with their party between March 17 and 31 for the June 10 primary election, according to York County's Voter Registration and Elections office.

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