Originally created 11/29/03

County Coroner Sims dies

Longtime Richmond County Coroner Leroy Sims died Friday at Doctors Hospital. He was 72.

Mr. Sims died of cardiopulmonary failure at 4:40 a.m., said his daughter Marion White Linder.

He became ill Thanksgiving morning and was rushed to the hospital at about 11 a.m., Mrs. Linder said.

"Things just went bad very quickly," she said.

Mr. Sims loved Augusta and loved being the coroner of Richmond County, Mrs. Linder said.

His funeral will be at 2 p.m. Monday at Trinity-on-the-Hill United Methodist Church. Graveside services will follow at Westover Cemetery.

Mr. Sims was serving his fourth four-year term as coroner. Georgia law calls for the county's probate judge to appoint a successor to serve out Mr. Sims' unexpired term, which ends next year.

Qualifying will be in April. Candidates will be on the ballot in the July primary, and the office will be filled in the November general election, said Lynn Bailey, the director of the Richmond County Board of Elections.

"It appears there will be no need for a special election," Mrs. Bailey said.

Richmond County Probate Judge Isaac Jolles, who will appoint Mr. Sims' interim successor, is also a longtime friend.

"I've known Leroy since we were in the Army," Judge Jolles said. "He was just a wonderful person. On the political side, he gave me a lot of good advice ... and he was one you could depend on."

Dr. Kailash B. Sharma, a county medical examiner who worked with Mr. Sims for almost 30 years, said he had a genuine knack for dealing with families.

"When you go and see a family when somebody dies, it's bad news to start with," Dr. Sharma said. "I never heard one single family say anything bad about Mr. Sims in that situation.

"He gave his life to Richmond County. Night, day, rain, sleet, snow, he drove all over the county from one end to the other end and worked hard."

MR. SIMS ALWAYS wanted to be a police officer, so after leaving the Air Force in 1963, he joined the Augusta Police Department, where he spent 25 years, 19 of them as chief of the homicide division.

"We were privates together," said former APD Chief Freddie Lott. "He walked the Broad Street beat. I walked the Greene Street beat. He always wanted to be in homicide, so he went to homicide, and I stayed in traffic."

Former Richmond County Sheriff Charles Webster said Mr. Sims loved being a police officer, but he was dedicated to being coroner.

"He was good to the people when he had to go to them and tell them about tragedy that happened," he said. "He will be missed, but I was hoping he would be able to retire and enjoy life for a while before he passed on."

Richmond County Sheriff Ronnie Strength said the community lost a dedicated public servant.

"The coroner's job is a very difficult job," he said. "The hours are unpredictable, 24-7. In all the years Leroy was coroner, I never heard him complain about the job itself, the hours, the bad parts of the jobs. He knew it going in, and he never complained about it."

Sheriff Strength watched Mr. Sims rise through the ranks of the Augusta Police Department and eventually become coroner. Mr. Sims, meanwhile, once said he remembered when Ronnie Strength was "running barefoot on the street."

Because of their positions, the two men talked frequently about slayings and other matters. The sheriff spoke with Mr. Sims earlier this week.

"Leroy was a character. He always had something going," Sheriff Strength said. "He was great to be around. He will be missed by many."

Mr. Sims became deputy coroner of Richmond County in 1975. Two years later, he began serving out the term of Coroner Marvin Woodward, who retired because of poor health. He then ran for coroner and received 86 percent of the vote. He never had opposition after that.

IN A 2000 interview, Mr. Sims said he'd gotten used to dealing with death, with the exception of those involving children.

He said the one that bothered him the most happened on a Christmas. He got a call that morning and left his family before they'd opened presents. At the scene, he met a mother and father who'd gone to wake up their children and discovered their 13-year-old son dead of a heart attack, Mr. Sims said.

When he finished his work and went home, he said, he didn't feel like celebrating anymore.

"I went in the back bedroom," Mr. Sims said. "That's the only time I ever cried about a case."

Mr. Sims also played the organ as a hobby. His wife, Betty, bought him one as a Father's Day present. He liked to play hymns and Christmas carols.

He also had a casket-shaped, bronze paperweight on his office desk, given to him by a funeral home.

He said he was the highest-paid coroner in the state of Georgia.

Mr. Sims was active in the Richmond County Democratic Party; the Augusta-Richmond County Committee for Good Government; and the Frog Hollow reunion committee.

"It's very disturbing that we've lost such a fine gentleman and dedicated public servant, and we're going to miss him very much," said former Georgia House Speaker Pro Tem Jack Connell.

Mr. Sims is survived by his wife; two daughters, Mrs. Linder and April Cory; granddaughters Summer Raehm and Carter Bertram and grandson Collin Bertram.

Visitation will be from 6-8 p.m. today and 4-6 p.m. Sunday at Thomas Poteet and Sons Funeral Home on Davis Road.

Staff Writers Johnny Edwards and Greg Rickabaugh contributed to this article.

Reach Sylvia Cooper at (706) 823-3228 or sylvia.cooper@augustachronicle.com.


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