The compassionate coroner

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 9, 2006

The Selma Times-Journal

When children are asked the perennial question of what they want to be when they grow up, most don’t eagerly shout, “I want to be a coroner!” But someone usually grows up to be one.

In Dallas County, that someone is Alan Dailey – the sole candidate for county coroner on the June 6 primary election ballot.

“It’s a 24-hours a day, seven days a week job,” Dailey said.

Appointed by Gov. Bob Riley following the death of former Dallas County Coroner Franklin Bailey in January 2004, Dailey is quite the juggler. As county coroner, he plays a pivotal role in death investigations – Dailey establishes the cause and manner of a person’s death.

The cause is the medical reason the person dies and the manner is whether they died as a result of homicide, suicide, accident, natural causes or in an undetermined fashion.

Dailey said the cause and manner of death determines the amount of money the government grants to local law enforcement agencies. For example, if the majority of county deaths are a result of homicide, more money is granted to the sheriff’s and police departments. In addition to government grants, cause and manner of death determines the difference between insurance payoffs in a suicide as opposed to an accident – an issue of great importance to the deceased’s family, Dailey said.

Dailey is also responsible for submitting all certificates of death to the health department and works closely with the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department, the Selma Police Department, the District Attorney’s office, Vaughan Regional Medical Center and area funeral homes.

Dailey’s workday is often determined by the untimely fates of others. Said Dailey Monday, “I was called out this morning, called out yesterday and called out Saturday, but it’s not too terribly bad.”

Paid a salary of $11,500 per year by the Dallas County Commission, Dailey works with two unpaid deputy coroners to tackle his workload, which often consists of speaking with grieving family members. For a man who often stares death in the face, Dailey said nothing prepares a person for the loss of a life.

“You can never prepare yourself for death, even if it’s one that you know is coming like a hospice patient. But the ones that are real tragic are when (people) kiss goodbye and leave in the morning and their loved one is killed later on that day. That’s the real tough part,” he said.

“And then children. All children …”

“It’s tough to come up with answers for untimely deaths. Why did this happen? Why did this happen to my child? Why did this happen to my family?” Dailey said.

Dailey tries to put family members at ease by being available to them whenever they need him.

“The main thing is being compassionate towards the family and the family’s friends because for a lot of them, it’s an ordeal they’ve never been through, never experienced and hopefully they don’t experience very much in their life.”

“I always try to answer all the questions they have if I can. If I can’t, then I’ll try to get the answers.”

An active Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) for 24 years, Dailey said a medical background helps if one aspires to be a coroner. In Alabama, legislators recently implemented new coroner laws that require minimum training for all elected or appointed coroners who are not physicians, but still “anybody off the street could run for coroner and if they were elected, they would get that position,” Dailey said.