Three vie for St. Charles coroner’s seat

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Position open up for first time in 35 years with Vial departure


Staff Reporter

HAHNVILLE-For the first time in over 35 years, the citizens of St. Charles Parish will go to the polls and cast their vote for coroner.

After Dr. David “Jerry” Vial, the St. Charles Parish longtime coroner died late last year, three candidates put their name in the running to take his place.

Dr. Monica Vial Benson, daughter of the late Dr. Benson, who is assistant coroner for St. Charles Parish; Dr. Brian Brogle, who specializes in adult and pediatric urology; and Dr. M. Dale Morris, assistant coroner for St. John Parish and Director of Emergency Department at River Parishes Hospital.

A coroner’s job is to inquire into the cause of death. If a death seems suspicious, they are the ones to decide if it was a homicide, an accident, or natural causes.

Coroners list the cause of death on the death certificate and take an active role in the legal system, testifying at hearings and trials.

In short, they deal with the dead for a living.

It is true that a coroner’s job may not have the stigma on it that it once had, thanks to the high-rated rash of crime shows like CSI and Crossing Jordan. The candidates said that while it gets the job attention, there are downsides to the newfound public interest in careers similar to theirs.

“The shows are overblown and sensationalize science,” Brogle said, pointing out that on TV, it’s always set on a crime scene.

“That’s not the biggest part of our job,” he said, “We deal with live people, too. People who are psychotic, suicidal, lost and wandering; they need assistance.”

Morris agreed and said a district attorney friend of his now laments the fact that no jury ever wants to convict unless there’s DNA evidence, because the shows make it seem like it is so easy to get that type of data.

“I know they’ve exaggerated what can be done and how quickly it can be done,” Morris said, “They are not realistic.”

While television is glitz and glamour, the realism is a bit more gritty, but Doctors Morris and Brogle have decided to take on this task anyway and though most people would wonder why, those in the position have their reasons.

“Well, somebody’s got to do it,” Morris said, “I’ve been doing this kind of work for about 15 years, and there is a paycheck in it. I figured it might as well be me. Besides, some people find this work exciting.”

“I think I can do the best job for the citizens of this parish,” Brogle said, “I will make sure the investigation gets done appropriately and compassionately.”

In these special elections, the political party the candidates belong to is listed on the ballot, but how important is political affiliation for a coroner? On this, the two doctors have different opinions.

“It’s important to know if you are liberal or conservative and how that factors in to making decisions,” Brogle, who is Republican, said. “It may make a big difference.”

Morris, who has no party listed on the ballot, looks at it a different way.

“I’m not sure it has anything to do with it,” he said. “It’s a technical job and hard to campaign for, but I sure can’t lower taxes.”

Both Brogle and Morris are on the River Parishes Hospital Executive Committee together, and said that though they may be rivals in this race for now, they both remain friendly.

“You get thick-skinned in medical school,” Morris said, “because there’s always an element of healthy debate, but we’re friends.”

“It’s kind of strange, rumors spread but we are still friends,” Brogle said.

“He and our wives will still go out to dinner after this is over. We’re both supportive.”

The coroner’s race takes place on Saturday, April 2. Numerous attempts to contact Dr. Benson by L’Observateur went unanswered.