5 vie for Jackson County coroner’s seat and two ex-supervisors challenge an incumbent

A runoff is likely to follow the Aug. 6 Republican primary to fill the Jackson County coroner’s seat, as five people vie for the post to replace longtime Coroner Vicki Broadus.

Running are two registered nurses, the current deputy coroner, a police officer and a co-owner of a funeral home in Jackson County.

The candidates are Jackson County Deputy Coroner Carole Anne Burnett-Fagan, of Pascagoula; Bruce Lynd Jr., co-owner and manager of Heritage Funeral Home in Pascagoula; Pascagoula Police Lt. Darren Versiga, of Pascagoula; Kathleen “Kitty” Seymour-Swetman, a registered nurse from Vancleave who has spent a decade working in pediatric and geriatric home health and hospice care; and Greta Guthans, a registered nurse from Gautier with over 15 years of experience in that field along with additional work in the funeral home business.

With 15 years of on-the-job experience as deputy coroner, Fagan said she will use her experience, educational background in mortuary science and training in death investigations and annual budget preparations and purchasing operations to run the coroner’s office in a professional and efficient manner.

“I have always had an interest in the death and dying field,” she said. “Fifteen years ago when I started as deputy coroner, I decided that when Mrs. Vicki (Broadus) retired, I would run for coroner and I have been preparing for it ever since. I will be able to take the first call and know exactly what to do. I’m experienced and perform the duties of the coroners office with experience, dignity, compassion and dedication, but the most important is being experienced.”

Lynd, the co-owner of Heritage Funeral Home, said he’s the best person for the job because he already works with grieving families and has years of experience handling budgets and operations.

In addition, he said his work in the funeral home business has taught him the “ins and outs of the deceased human body, including causes of death.”

He said his professional work has only reinforced his commitment to “caring for the people of our community that have passed away and helping those they leave behind in the process.”

If elected, Lynd wants to continue the push to get a medical examiner back in South Mississippi to perform autopsies to get rid of the long lag times that go along with waiting on autopsy results from an already overburdened staff at the state medical examiner’s office in Jackson.

Swetman and Guthans believe their qualifications as trained medical professionals makes them the perfect fit for the job they plan to take on full-time.

“Because every death is a medical event, Jackson County deserves to continue its tradition of having a medical professional serve as coroner,” Guthans said.

As nurses, both women said they are already trained to detect health problems and deal with death investigations on the job.

“Having a background in nursing allows your coroner to complete death investigations with competency,” Guthans said. “My time will be fully dedicated to serving the people of Jackson County as coroner and will not be divided with any other business or obligations.”

Swetman echoed the sentiment, saying her years of on the job work dealing with the dead and dying has prepared her for the job of coroner.

“The coroner needs to not only understand the medical side of it, but they also need the empathy and compassion to deal with the losses,” Swetman said. “If you don’t have that medical background to answer the questions, it can be very traumatic on a family.”

As a police officer, Versiga plans to bring a new approach to handling matters as county coroner.

“A nurse is good for the living but they have no investigative skills,” he said. “A funeral home owner is good for the burial but has no investigative experience. I have it all. I’ve been there from the very beginning when a body is found all the way through burial to the courtroom for conviction.”

Versiga believes he’s best person for the job because of his experience as a law enforcement officer.

“This fits like a glove between law enforcement and coroner,” he said. “I understand why things are done with the investigation and why law enforcement have to take their time at crime scenes. I simply get it.

“In 1987, the state required coroners to have training of crime scenes and death investigation. This should be a clue that something wasn’t getting done correctly. The state didn’t say you have to learn to be a nurse or a funeral director. They needed investigation skills and a law was enacted to do this.”

If elected, Versiga hopes to put to work his plans to set up a skeletal remains repository for missing persons in the state so they can work to identify and properly investigate the cases.

“Most coroners are not using the databases available to connect the dots,” he said.

Versiga said as coroner he’d also push for programs to better educate young people about the dangers of dying of a drug overdose, all deaths the coroner’s office usually handles.

To do that, he said he’s already been in touch with ex-drug users and dealers and the parents of children who have died of an overdose to find the best ways to get the message out to young people about the danger of using drugs and the potential of them losing their lives because of it.

In addition to the coroner’s race, three contested races for Jackson County supervisor will be decided in August, though the headliner is the race that pits two-term Incumbent District 4 Supervisor Troy Ross against former Supervisors Frank Leach and Tommy Brodnax.

Brodnax served five terms as supervisor at different times from 1980 to 2008. Leach served two terms in office, beginning in 2000.

Ross previously served as alderman at large in Ocean Springs.

The winner of District 4 race will face Democrat Sean Thomas Alawine in November.

Here’s a look at the other races in the August primary:

- Member, Board of Supervisors - District 1

Republican Barry E. Cumbest

Republican Steve A. Weiden,

- Board of Supervisors - District 3

Republican Ken Taylor

Republican Jacques “Tommy Martin

- Board of Supervisors - District 5

Republican Randy Bosarge

Republican George F. Zorn

- Tax Collector

Republican Kevin Miller

Republican Anthony “Tony” Shearer

Republican Stephanie Tagert

- County prosecuting attorney

Republican Kyle Miller

Republican James “Lee” Farragut III

- Justice Court Judge - District 1

Republican Matthew Lachaussee

Republican Richard Rilie Palmer, III,

- Justice Court Judge - District 4

Republican Daniel D. “Danny” Guice, III

Republican Suzette Breland

- Constable - District 1

Republican Ty Thompson

Republican Michael “Mickey” Everett, Jr.

- Constable - District 2

Democrat Calvin W. Hutchins

Democrat Robert C. Reeves, Sr.

- Constable - District 3

Republican Kyle Cummings

Republican Shane Langfitt

- Constable - District 4

Republican Kerry B. Fountain

Republican Jarrod Scott Burnside

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Margaret Baker is an investigative reporter whose search for truth exposed corrupt sheriffs, a police chief and various jailers and led to the first prosecution of a federal hate crime for the murder of a transgendered person. She worked on the Sun Herald’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Hurricane Katrina team. When she pursues a big story, she is relentless.