Originally created 02/29/04

Tuten says lifetime of service qualifies him for busy role



Grover Tuten thinks he was meant to be Richmond County coroner.

And he comes off very much like the coroner candidate he is.

"I've worked my whole life to do this job," he said, arms folded tightly across his chest. "I didn't know it back then, but my whole life has been pushed toward this job. Medical training, police training, working as deputy coroner all led me to doing this job."

Mr. Tuten will find out if he's right when he faces Richmond County sheriff's Lt. Jimmy Wylds in Tuesday's election to fill the term of Leroy Sims, who died in November.

Mr. Tuten's path toward the coroner's job began in 1964, after he was discharged from the Navy and joined the Augusta Police Department. He remained with the force until 1970, when he and some partners formed a private ambulance company.

When University Hospital took it over two years later, he stayed on as a supervisor and emergency medical technician trainer and got his first job as a part-time deputy coroner in then-Coroner Marvin Woodward's office.

In 1977, he left the ambulance service and returned to police work in Warren County, where he served as police chief until a new county commission abolished the county force in 1985. He returned to the Augusta Police Department and became the departmental training officer.

Ten years later, when Leroy Sims was elected coroner, Mr. Tuten went to work for him as a full-time deputy coroner, working nights, weekends and off days from the police department.

"I've always worked two or more jobs for the last 30-some-odd years," he said.

When the city and county consolidated in 1996, he chose to go with the coroner's office.

"I just thought I could do more good here, and I enjoy this job," he said. "I honestly feel you can help people because when we see them, it's at the worst time of their lives. Somebody in their family has just died. It's my job to make sure the death is properly ruled upon and help the family."

The job has made him a better man and a better Christian, he said.

And it requires more training and skill than most people realize, he said.

"There are people who think coroners are an extension of law enforcement, and that is by no means correct," he said.

Coroners can issue subpoenas, impound jewelry, investigate suspicious deaths and hold inquests.

"So we're quasi-judicial and law enforcement," he said. "And in this office, we are both certified police officers."

The Richmond County coroner's office investigates more deaths than any other such office in Georgia, he said.

"Only DeKalb County, which has a medical examiner instead of a coroner, investigates more deaths than we do," he said. "And that includes the medical examiners' offices in Cobb and Fulton counties. We still do more than they do."

Mr. Tuten has been a certified police officer for 32 years. He is also certified to teach EMTs, police officers, coroners and deputy coroners in Georgia.

"I'm a certified instructor in all areas of law enforcement to include firearms and hostage negotiation," he said.

He has been endorsed by the Richmond County Democratic Party.

After 26 years as deputy coroner, Mr. Tuten said he doesn't know what he will do if he loses the election, but he will not stay on as deputy coroner.

"I think if I don't win it's because God has something else he wants me to do," he said. "I think I will win."

Grover Tuten

Occupation: Richmond County deputy coroner for 26 years

Age: 60

Family: Wife, Frances Hobbs Tuten; one son, Fred; three daughters, Beth Veal, Shannon Williford, Jennifer Kelly; seven grandchildrenEducation: More than 500 hours of training for coroners and deputy coroners and 800 hours of in-service law enforcement training

Honors: Georgia Deputy Coroner of the Year, 1999; Georgia EMT of the Year, 1979

Political affiliation: Registered Democrat

Political experience: None

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