Cases mount without deputy

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In the next couple of weeks, Richmond County Coroner Grover Tuten is hoping to fill a deputy coroner position that has been vacant since the recent firing and arrest of Charlena Graham, who is accused of taking gift cards from a suicide victim.

In the meantime, Mr. Tuten says he and Chief Deputy Mark Bowen, his only other assistant, are doing the best they can with the cases they have.

"We'll be able to handle it for a while," he said. "But really we already need somebody."

The coroner's office is tasked with investigating any death that's unattended by a physician, excluding hospice situations. It investigates homicides, suicides and deaths of those in police custody, and it is responsible for notifying family members.

Mr. Tuten said that without Ms. Graham, his office now handles a caseload that typically would require three or more people.

"For now, we're handling things," said Mr. Tuten, a retired Augusta Police Department training sergeant who has worked for the Richmond County Coroner's Office in some capacity for more than 30 years.

Mr. Tuten said he would like to fill the position with someone who has extensive police and emergency management training experience.

He said he also has no reason to place more emphasis on background checks.

"In support of Ms. Graham, from the time she was hired with the Augusta Police Department in 1993 until 2008 she never once had anything in her records that indicates she was guilty of anything," he said. "It was an opportunistic moment, and she had a momentary weakness."

Until her position is filled, the Richmond County Coroner's Office will operate with just Mr. Tuten and Mr. Bowen for a county of about 194,000 people. In the past year, Mr. Tuten's office has handled 1,134 cases.

In comparison, Aiken County Coroner Tim Carlton said his office has two assistant coroners, two part-time, on-call coroners and an administrative support employee. Aiken County has about 152,000 residents, according to 2006 Census figures.

In Columbia County, which has nearly 107,000 residents, Coroner Vernon Collins is assisted by two deputy coroners.

Leaders in all three counties say they're happy with their respective coroners and staff.

"Grover is very cognizant and cost-effective," said Augusta City Administrator Fred Russell of Mr. Tuten. "I haven't had any complaints about how he does his job."

The Richmond County Coroner's Office is finding support from fellow coroners, with Mr. Carlton offering assistance to Mr. Tuten's office should caseloads become unmanageable.

Reach Timothy Cox at (706) 823-3217 or tim.cox@augustachronicle.com.


CORONER STATS


RICHMOND COUNTY: Coroner Grover Tuten, one deputy coroner, one temporary administrative assistant; 1,134 cases in the past year; 2008 budget -- $389,840


AIKEN COUNTY: Coroner Tim Carlton, two assistant coroners, two part-time, on-call coroners and an administrative support employee; 1,036 cases in the past year; 2008 budget -- $435,521


COLUMBIA COUNTY: Coroner Vernon Collins, two deputy coroners; 198 cases in past year; 2008 budget -- $107,999


ANNUAL SALARY STATS


RICHMOND COUNTY


Coroner Grover Tuten, $66,199.90


Deputy Coroner Mark Bowen, $56,513.83


Former Deputy Coroner Charlena Graham, $38,616.99


AIKEN COUNTY


Coroner Tim Carlton, $63,979.73


Chief Deputy Corner Darrell Ables, $56,715.17


Deputy Coroner Jeff Smith, pay range of $42,336 to $59,270


COLUMBIA COUNTY


Coroner Vernon Collins, $16,000.08 plus car and cell-phone allowance


(Mr. Collins has two assistant coroners who are paid $175 per call. They are on call on a 24/7 basis)

Sources: Richmond, Aiken and Columbia County government officials

Comments (14) Add comment
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patriciathomas
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patriciathomas 02/05/08 - 06:33 am
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Maybe someone a little more

Maybe someone a little more cynical should interview Mr. Tuten's next deputy for him. Assuming someone has high morals and good character is very diplomatic, but hardly realistic.

Truth Seeker
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Truth Seeker 02/05/08 - 08:20 am
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Great idea Patricia. We also

Great idea Patricia. We also need someone in that department who has a degree in an area that will help grieving families at the worst times in their lives, i.e. psychology, nursing,or sociology.

pofwe
5
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pofwe 02/05/08 - 08:37 am
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Looks like Coroner Vernon

Looks like Coroner Vernon Collins, is due for a raise.

Newsreader
11
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Newsreader 02/05/08 - 09:36 am
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I was thinking of applying

I was thinking of applying for the Richmond County job, but then I saw the salary. I can not take that kind of pay cut. Next, I looked at Vernon Collins' salary, I am thinking of organizing a car wash or some other fundraiser for him. Come on! Less than $20K! He should apply for the deputy job at Richmond County, he would more than double his pay, and cut his work load. Mr. Cross are you listening?

FallingLeaves
27
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FallingLeaves 02/05/08 - 10:00 am
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Newsreader, read that info

Newsreader, read that info again, what do you mean if Richmond County hires Columbia County's Vernon Collins it would CUT Collin's work load? Richmond County has the heavier work load by far 1134 to 198 AND Collins has two deputy coroners still available to him. Do you mean cut Mr. Tuten's workload if he hires Collins? Why the disparity in pay between the two deputy coroners in Richmond County, was there a disparity in skills, training and/or experience?

InChristLove
22480
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InChristLove 02/05/08 - 10:26 am
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That's what I'd like to know

That's what I'd like to know baroness. Mr. Bowen is making almost $18,000 more than Ms. Graham was. Why such a big difference in pay?

understandb4uspeak
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understandb4uspeak 02/05/08 - 11:33 am
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It might be a good idea for

It might be a good idea for you all to reread the article to understand the Columbia County Coroner's office barely does 10% of the calls the Richmond County Corner's office handles. Compare 193 to over 1100 in Richmond County. Furthermore, there is a huge difference between Cheif Deputy Coroner and Deputy Corner. Chief Deputy is a managment position, the second person in charge. The position supervises the Deputy Coroner position and the person, Mark Bowen has much more experience than the Deputy Corner did. And finally, ask any one of the families that Cheif Deputy Corroner Mark Bowen has had to notify of a death and you'll hear the kind of compassion he has with families.

InChristLove
22480
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InChristLove 02/05/08 - 02:22 pm
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Your right

Your right "understandb4uspeak", I did go back and reread the article and the article says "Chief Deputy" but in the section where it list the salaries both Mr. Bowen and Ms. Graham were listed in the position of Deputy Coroner, not one listed as Chief Deputy and the other just Depty coroner. I have no doubts that Mr. Bowen is a kind compassionate man I was just curious why two listed positions with the same title paid differently. Now we know Mr. Bowen was Ms. Graham's supervisor so in turn receives a higher salary.

mudcat
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mudcat 02/05/08 - 03:59 pm
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Maybe the difference in pay

Maybe the difference in pay is the amount of time working for Richmond County, Bowen has 20 plus years of service and he started off as a road deputy with the Sheriff Dept., 20 years of service should count toward his pay. In looking at the number of calls listed in the article, Richmond County handled 1134 calls vs Columbis County 198. Divide the number of call by three, (the number of employees) and each employee in Richmonf handled 387 call vs 66 for Columbia County per year. Mr. Collins has a full time job a a truck driver and does the coroners job on the side.

iletuknow
8
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iletuknow 02/05/08 - 04:30 pm
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You mean they considered

You mean they considered Charlena Graham an asset? Perhaps she was storing the bodies at home.

mamak929
0
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mamak929 02/05/08 - 05:26 pm
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I still sense a little

I still sense a little discrepency in the pay of Ms. Graham and Mr. Bowen, being that they have the same title. What is his experience versus her experience? Either way I'm sure there shouldn't be such a big gap in their pay... Considering the difference between Mr. Tuten and Mr. Bowen's pay is less than 10k. As they say, "something in the milk ain't clean." Somebody should be entitled to backpay.

SargentMidTown
8
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SargentMidTown 02/05/08 - 08:57 pm
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Charlena Graham.....GIRL why

Charlena Graham.....GIRL why you is so bat ? I bet that miss thing has a hard time raising her glass for a toast at her next cocktail party. I think that I would leave town quietly, at night.

TakeAstand
13
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TakeAstand 02/06/08 - 12:16 am
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mamak, they left off the

mamak, they left off the chief part of Mr. Bowens title in the salary part, thats already been stated, and if hes the one who tells the families, that is a hard job so he may have a salary gap bigger that what you would think between the 2 positions and he may have a lot more duties and experience, read the rest of the posts, there isn't always a conspiracy or bias. And backpay for a THIEF??? I don't think so!!! lol I guess, that comment alone explains why you don't get the salary thing. You don't care about the facts, just trying to twist everything to feed your "cause" and justify wrongdoings of the criminal you are defending.

TheTruth
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TheTruth 02/06/08 - 07:45 am
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"In support of Ms. Graham,

"In support of Ms. Graham, from the time she was hired with the Augusta Police Department in 1993 until 2008 she never once had anything in her records that indicates she was guilty of anything," he said. "It was an opportunistic moment, and she had a momentary weakness."

I am disturbed by his dismissiveness of the crime. Coroners need to be beyond reproach. He should have denounced her in the strongest terms. Stealing from the dead, creating an impression of the possiblity of critical evidence that could have been removed in previous cases...I question Mr. Tuten's leadership.

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