Originally created 12/01/99

Deputy coroners hope to obtain research grants



AIKEN -- Aiken County Coroner Sue Townsend has deputized a former city councilwoman and a local grant writer to help dig up some answers to infant mortality issues, suicides, traffic fatalities and alcohol-related deaths.

Karen Papouchado and Barbara Strack were sworn in this week as deputy coroners, giving them authority to obtain medical records and other information not available to most citizens. The positions are nonpaid, but both women hope to obtain federal grants that will fund their positions and research.

"They are technical writers with statistical and research skills," Mrs. Townsend said. "I'm very excited to have them on board."

The coroner calls the two women her "data deputies," responsible for gathering information and documenting specific details of area deaths. Mrs. Townsend has two full-time deputy coroners, Tim Carlton and Darryl Ables, who are paid to help her investigate deaths in the county.

"The new positions will allow them to look for grants to help or curtail some of the deaths that we are experiencing in Aiken County," Mrs. Townsend said.

Mrs. Papouchado is a former member of the Aiken City Council who was unseated in the Republican primary Sept. 14. She also has spent years researching Aiken County infant mortality issues, coordinating the organization called Growing Into Life, formed in 1989, to address the county's high rate of infant deaths.

Those efforts paid off in November when the Pew Partnership announced the Aiken program was one of 19 chosen to participate in an initiative to document successful efforts in building stronger communities.

Mrs. Papouchado also has been a member of the Suicide Task Force, researching a suicide rate in Aiken County that is above the state average.

Ms. Strack is a former head of the technical editing section at Westinghouse Savannah River Co. She also has served on Growing Into Life and other local committees.

The women already have a lead on a possible federal grant. The U.S. Justice Department and Attorney General Janet Reno have shown interest in the local Moms & Cops program, mentioning it in a recent speech, Mrs. Papouchado said.

The Moms & Cops program trains public safety officers in the area of prenatal care so they can spread the word to expectant mothers while patrolling area neighborhoods. It is funded by United Way and the Department of Health and Environmental Control.

"Janet Reno says it was the kind of public partnerships that would be the answers to the problems that we had," she said.

Together, the two Aiken women have helped bring in $900,000 in grants for Aiken County causes, including money for the Hitchcock Rehabilitation Center.

Reach Greg Rickabaugh at (803) 279-6895.