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Stark divide for coroner

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By Tim Karan
Saturday, May 18, 2013, 1:36 a.m.

The race in the primary for Armstrong County Coroner is between two candidates with vastly disparate backgrounds: One has served as deputy coroner for the past four years, and the other won't be able to be certified as a coroner until after the general election in November.

Brian Myers, 34, of Rural Valley, is running unopposed on the Republican ballot and Roy Morrison, 54, of Kiskiminetas Township, is unopposed on the Democratic side.

The county coroner is responsible for investigating all deaths and determining whether an autopsy or inquest is required.

Myers started working at the coroner's office in 2002 and worked his way up to deputy in 2009 under current coroner and county commissioner Bob Bower.

“Around 2005, (Bower) started taking me on a lot of calls to sort of groom me into the position,” said Myers. “Since I was deputized, I've been going out on a lot more of the calls — especially after (Bower) was elected commissioner (in 2011).”

Myers, who graduated from Indiana University of Pennsylvania in 2000 and the Pittsburgh Institute of Mortuary Science in 2002, is also a funeral director at Carson Boyer Funeral Home in Rural Valley. He's a member of the Pennsylvania Coroners Association and estimates he's witnessed more than 500 autopsies.

“I take pride in my job and, in my four years as deputy (coroner), I've dealt with a lot of different types of deaths from suicides to accidental deaths to homicides,” said Myers. “I know how the office runs and I know what needs done.”

Myers said he has relationships with state and local police, county EMS and fire personnel, the District Attorney's office, the sheriff's office and the staff at ACMH Hospital.

“I also have the backing of both Bob Bower and Bob Welch — the two previous coroners — and (forensic pathologist and former Allegheny County coroner) Cyril Wecht,” said Myers. “(Bower) has done a wonderful job with the position, and he's made the office run very, very smoothly.”

However, Myers' opponent, Morrison, does not share that sentiment.

“I think not much has been put into the coroner position lately,” said Morrison. “Mainly, I think the services (the coroner provides) need to be done with more dignity and respect.”

Although he is chairman of the Kiskiminetas Township Planning Committee and an elected member of the county Democratic Committee, Morrison has no official work history as a coroner and can't take the 35-hour course for PSCA Certification until it's offered again by the state Attorney General's Office in November. Morrison instead notes that he's spent 15 years as an HIV/AIDS activist and sat on the board of the AIDS Coalition of Pittsburgh.

“I kept acquiring knowledge along the way,” said Morrison. “As coroner, there could be circumstances that need to be investigated, and you need logic and reason to get you through that. I bring a broad general knowledge to the position.”

Morrison, who works in sales and ran for county commissioner in 2011, graduated with a communications degree from California University of Pennsylvania. He believes that training, along with his personal history, will help him talk to grieving families.

“I've been around death since I was a kid when I lost a brother to a car accident and lost a sister when I was 4 years old. I grew up in a house where there were three fatal accidents within 100 yards of my house,” said Morrison. “I can deal with tempers flaring, people getting out of line and being upset.”

Still, his opponent Myers remains confident in his own background.

“I'm the only qualified candidate,” said Myers. “I'd hate to see the families of Armstrong County have to talk to somebody who has no idea what the office is even about.”

To which Morrison responded, “I know (Myers) likes to say he's the only one with experience. But I just haven't done it for pay.”

Tim Karan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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