Gast for county coroner

In the race for York County coroner, we endorse Republican Sabrina Gast.

Gast is opposed by Democrat Pete Skidmore, a 15-year private investigator. While both candidates appear highly qualified, our decision to endorse Gast was based largely on the conception of the job of coroner.

Skidmore views the job as largely a law enforcement post in which the coroner serves as top investigator at crime and accident scenes. He says the job is investigative, not medical.

Gast also believes that the coroner is responsible for investigating the scene of death. But she also believes that her credentials as a registered nurse with a master's degree in forensic nursing make her more qualified to be coroner.

We lean toward Gast's interpretation of the job. While investigative experience is a considerable plus, the majority of the deaths in which a coroner will be involved will be those resulting from accidents or natural causes in which criminal activity is not a factor.

We think a coroner needs good interpersonal skills, especially in dealing with and helping to console family members of the deceased. The coroner also should be a good communicator when dealing with the public.

Gast has experience as a coroner. After Doug McKown was suspended in 2006 after his arrest on drug charges, Gast was appointed by Gov. Mark Sanford to serve as interim coroner.

She served in that post until June, when McKown returned to office after being acquitted of all charges. But he announced his resignation in July, and Gast again was called in to replace him.

During the short time that McKown resumed the job of coroner, Gast worked with the local Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner program, the same job she had held before being appointed interim coroner the first time. She since has dropped that job, although Skidmore says that, for at least a time, her duties as coroner and those with the SANE program overlapped.

Skidmore said that, if elected, he would allow his investigator's license to expire, and his wife and son would take over his business. He claims that Gast's close relationship with the York County Sheriff's Office and the Rock Hill Police Department would hinder her ability to run an independent coroner's office.

But we see the potential for a conflict of interests as minimal. In most cases, a good working relationship with police and sheriff's deputies would be an advantage.

Looking at all the skills required to run this office, we think Gast has demonstrated that she can run an efficient coroner's office, tend to the needs of grieving families and handle the public relations duties that come with the job.

We urge voters to support her on Tuesday.