When Sonny Cox was sworn in as Greenwood County Coroner in Jan. 2013 he had no idea he would be facing Greenwood County’s most violent year in its long history. Cox remains undaunted, however, in his vision for the Coroner’s Office as he heads into his second year in office.
“It was a rough year,” Cox said of his first year in office. “I don’t ever remember a year like last year in Greenwood, but we’re going to keep moving forward. I’ve got a good staff here. They have really embraced me. Their help made the year much easier than it could have been.”
Cox and his team of three full-time and six part-time investigators experienced Greenwood’s most deadly year ever in their first year working together. When the calendar finally flipped from 2013 to 2014, Greenwood had seen 17 homicides, nine suicides, 15 accidental deaths and 633 natural deaths. The number of deaths in Greenwood, particularly homicides, has seen steady growth since 2010. In 2012, there were 588 total deaths, five of which were homicides. In 2011, there 599 total deaths, eight of which were homicides. In 2012, those numbers rose to 650 total deaths with nine homicides.
The Coroner’s Office is primarily responsible for determining manner and cause of death in addition to notifying the deceased individual’s next of kin. One of the other more commonly recognized functions of the office is scheduling autopsies. But the office is also responsible for issuing cremation permits to funeral homes, maintaining files on all reported deaths, and investigating deaths where a patient dies within 24 hours of a hospital stay.
Cox wants to take the office beyond simply dealing with death and moving out into the community to help prevent deaths from occurring. Cox is already on board with the “Alive at 25” program in Ninety Six schools, a program designed to educate young drivers and help prevent the number one killer of teens - automobile crashes. Cox has also taken on a central role in the No More Lies and Bruises event, a community event aimed at putting an end to criminal domestic violence in Greenwood.
“Here at the Coroner’s Office, we need to be doing more than just investigating deaths when they occur,” Cox said. “We need to get out in the community and try to stop those deaths that are preventable. We have a great opportunity to educate the community based on what we see every day and we intend to do everything we can to make Greenwood a safer place to live.”
Cox said his goal for his first year in office was to complete his Medical Legal Death Investigator certification. With that in hand, Cox now looks to obtaining an international accreditation for the office from the International Association of Coroners and Medical Examiners. That certification requires Cox’s office comply with more than 200 standards for operating and maintaining records. When Cox took office, there were no formal procedures in place for any of the many tasks performed by the Coroner’s Office. Cox, who was instrumental in obtaining a national accreditation for the Greenwood County Sheriff’s Office, has been putting together policies and procedures for the office since he took over. His office has officially been accepted into the accreditation process and Cox hopes to obtain the internationally recognized accreditation by the end of the year.
More than investigations, policies and procedures, Cox said the primary focus of his office is helping through one of the most difficult times in their lives. According to Cox, witnessing the scene of a crime or another death pales in comparison to the difficulty of notifying the next of kin when a death occurs.
“The hardest part of this job is knocking on someone’s door and telling them that a one of their loved ones has died,” Cox said. “Being able to help them through that initial shock is also very rewarding. I also like to follow up with families the following day and again in a couple of weeks just to check on them and see how they are doing. The rewards definitely outweigh the challenges and I am looking forward to my second year in office.”