Sumter's Robbie Baker: 'Nobody wants to see the coroner'
By ADRIENNE SARVIS
Feb. 04, 2018
SUMTER, S.C. (AP) — Though he was elected to a position dealing with Sumter residents after death, Sumter County Coroner Robbie Baker wants to assure the community that he is just another person out doing his job.
Being the coroner is possibly one of the least popular jobs, Baker said. "No one wants to see the coroner," he said.
"Some people shy away when they meet me," he said, "but I'm a human being like everybody else."
Though the coroner may seem like a bad omen to some, anyone in that position can only survive the job if he or she has a good heart.
Working at the coroner's office has its ups and downs just like any other job, Baker said, but if you have a weak stomach and are not a people person, this is not the job for you.
"It would be a lie if I said I did not break down in tears with families," he said.
"Child fatalities are the worst," he said. "I hate to even talk about it."
Though the experience was difficult to recount, Baker did share a story of how he had to deliver the body of a three-week-old baby who was accidentally suffocated in his sleep to Newberry for an autopsy.
He talked about putting the baby in a small body bag and laying the body in the front seat of his truck while he drove about 95 miles to the medical facility because the body would not have been secure on the gurney in the back of his vehicle.
Despite its difficulties — and there are many — Baker said he likes what he does, though he would not say he enjoys the job because of the loss and grief. "I can't see how anybody would enjoy this."
Part of the job involves examining death scenes, and another part of the job is making sure the next of kin are informed and comforted.
Baker and his staff — one full- and one part-time deputy coroner — take multiple steps to make the task of reporting a death less painful for the families such as praying with next of kin and scheduling autopsies.
Autopsies allow the coroner's office to provide as many details to the family as possible, though some may think it is an intrusive procedure, Baker said.
People usually ask why their loved one is dead, and outside of the physical cause of death, he said, there is no answer for the decedent's decisions. An autopsy gives at least some level of understanding, he said.
The coroner's office also sends sympathy letters to the next of kin a few days after the death so the families "know that their loved one was not a statistic to us, and we share in their loss," Baker said.
However, no matter how much the coroner and his staff prepare before addressing a family, the meeting may not go as planned.
Rightfully so, some people get upset and take their frustrations out on you, and you have to realize it for what it is, Baker said.
"I've been cursed out by people at the scene," he said, "but I don't take it personal. People grieve in different ways."
While he was getting accustomed to his new duties, Baker also got to work on improving the office during his first year.
For his first month in office, the agency stored bodies at Palmetto Health Tuomey which was a "logistical nightmare," according to Baker, because decedents were loaded into county vehicles in full view of the public.
The bodies should be kept away from the public for respect for the dead and the families, he said.
Since then, the coroner's office acquired its own morgue facility on Sumter County property. Baker also purchased a hydraulic-lift system to easily put bodies in the refrigerated coolers at the morgue.
And, because of his law enforcement background, Baker now records the details of each death in an incident report which is available to the public. Sensitive information such as autopsy and toxicology reports can only be released to immediate legal next of kin with the proper identification.
The agency also applied for a Department of Justice grant for about $60,000 to purchase a new vehicle, a gurney, a backboard to carry bodies from the scene, and a another two-person cooler for the morgue.
This grant — anticipated to be approved in September — will save the taxpayers money, Baker said.
"I hope to leave the office better than when I got here," he said.
Information from: The Sumter Item, http://www.theitem.com