The first time Jimmy Wylds worked on a death case, he was 18 years old and a junior officer with the Augusta Police Department.
Now a 27-year law enforcement veteran, he recently recalled the experience, a time when he said he was equipped with little more than "a badge and a whistle."
He had been summoned to check on an elderly woman whom neighbors hadn't heard from in days. First he knocked on the door. When no one answered, he borrowed a ladder from the next-door neighbor and climbed into the upstairs window of the Whitney Street home.
When he stepped inside, the woman was in bed, dead.
"There was no family. She was here by herself," he said.
Nearly three decades later, Lt. Wylds says he's running for Richmond County coroner to prevent cases like that, which he says happen all too often in Augusta.
While he and his commanding officer were inside, the phone rang. Instructed to answer it, Lt. Wylds recalled the panic in the voice on the other end of the line. It was the woman's daughter calling from Columbia, and he had to tell her by telephone her mother had died.
"We should know who these people are, and know their addresses," Lt. Wylds said of elderly residents who live alone.
If elected, he says, he would work to forge a relationship with senior groups, to identify older residents who are living alone. Records could then be kept of their next of kin.
"Just to sit in the office and wait for the phone to ring to tell you someone's passed away is just a waste of time," he said. "I want to help the people that are left."
A special election to fill the office through November is being held Tuesday. A regular election will be held in November.
The job became vacant earlier this year after the death of longtime Coroner Leroy Sims.
A lieutenant in the traffic division of the Richmond County Sheriff's Office, Lt. Wylds is challenging interim Coroner Grover Tuten for the elective position.
"It's a great job. It serves the citizens of the county. I've been doing it for 26 years," Lt. Wylds said.
Although his opponent has more experience in the coroner's office, Lt. Wylds said death investigation has long been a part of his job on the traffic beat.
"Everybody doesn't leave the room when the coroner gets there," he explained.
He also believes the coroner's job is largely overlooked by the community until it's too late.
The coroner is called to investigate every child death, whether it appears suspicious or not, but Lt. Wylds says the coroner should also be called to investigate every death in a nursing home.
"It's our job to go and investigate these cases," he said.
Tuesday's race is nonpartisan, but in November candidates will have to identify themselves as Republican or Democrat. Lt. Wylds declined to say how he would run on such a ticket, describing himself as a registered Democrat with conservative values.
"When you go to a house and somebody's passed away, they don't care if you're a Democrat or a Republican," he said.
Occupation: Lieutenant in the Richmond County Sheriff's Office
Family: Wife, Marcia Rudd Wylds; children Kimberly, 25, and Jason, 23
Education: Glenn Hills High School; attended Augusta Technical College; attended Carl Vinson Institute of Government's local government program
Honors: 1986 Augusta Jaycees Police Officer of the Year; 1989 Augusta Jaycees Police Officer of the Year; 1996 Richmond County Sheriff's Office Medal of Valor
Political affiliation: Registered Democrat
Political experience: None
Reach Heidi Coryell Williams at (706) 823-3215 or firstname.lastname@example.org.