Commonwealth Journal

October 13, 2012

Godbey settling into new role as county coroner

By CHRIS HARRIS, CJ Staff Writer
Commonwealth Journal

Somerset —  

It’s rarely easy to just step right in to a new job and feel at ease.
It’s probably even harder when the circumstances surrounding your hire are, to say the least, controversial.
Yet that’s the situation Charles “Chuck” Godbey has found himself in over the last couple of weeks. And surprise, surprise — things have gone relatively smoothly.
“I’ve got good people here,” said Godbey, referring to the staff of the Pulaski County Coroner’s office. “They’ve helped me out a lot.”
Godbey was appointed to the position of county coroner late last month, being sworn in by Judge-Executive Barty Bullock on September 27. Though coroner is usually an elected position, the hasty move was one of necessity.
Richard New resigned the previous week after pleading guilty to 26 counts of theft stemming from his former employment at Lake Cumberland Funeral Home. 
Though the charges were unconnected to his role as coroner, New’s plea agreement dictated that he resign the office, in which he was serving his third four-year term.
That meant a replacement needed to be found swiftly, and it was Bullock’s job to find one. He tabbed Godbey, the retired assistant chief of Somerset-Pulaski EMS, to fill out the term. It was a move to ensure neutrality, seeking to avoid anyone connected with funeral homes, law enforcement, or the coroner’s office itself.
Of course, that doesn’t mean the house was cleaned. Though New’s deputy coroner Jim McWhorter also resigned, the new assistant chief deputy, Anthony Gossett, was moved up into the no. 2 role from a lower deputy position. He’s been an invaluable asset, according to Godbey.
“Anthony has some military experience and law enforcement experience; it’s been helpful on some of these accidents where we’ve had to have (law enforcement involvement),” said Godbey.
“Rather than go outside and try to find new people,” he added of why Gossett was moved up in the ranks, “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.”
Gossett has also assisted in introducing Godbey to personnel at the state medical examiner’s office, a crucial relationship for any Kentucky county coroner, and much of the forms and paperwork Gossett encounters.
It’s those kinds of details that have provided the trickiest challenges for Godbey to overcome in his new role. Though he has plenty of medical experience, with 30 years in emergency services, the specific demands of the coroner’s job have been new to Godbey.
“(The coroner’s office staff) has helped me out a lot as far as doing investigation work,” he said. “I usually never had to go farther than the hospital or doctor’s office. Now we have to track down people.”
It was a task fresh on Godbey’s mind as he spoke. He had worked his first fatal car accident as county coroner on Friday, and was busy trying to locate and notify the victim’s next of kin. It was the seventh death overall that he’d handled since taking over.
Also different: the knowledge that, as coroner, Godbey can’t do anything to save the life of the victims he’s attending to — a drastic change from his days with EMS, where the goal was to save lives.
“It’s a whole different feeling when I go in,” he said. “I feel strange. I don’t have anything to do that will change the outcome. I have the most trouble getting used to that.”
Godbey, a Science Hill resident and Baptist minister, has also taught EMT classes and helped provide emergency services in Casey County following his retirement. He still needs to undergo some additional training for the coroner’s job — he’ll be doing so in the next month, a once-a-year course focused on crime scene investigation — but he’s getting the hang of things.
“Finally, I’ve gotten out and done a few (cases) on my own without assistance,” he said. “It’s slow, but it’s getting there. I’m trying to focus on doing a good job. ... I’m quite happy.”
Happy, but still not quite at ease with the always-saddening circumstances surrounding his newest foray into the world of public service — and Godbey doesn’t wish to ever be at ease with them.
“Someone once said to me, ‘I don’t know how you could do what you do. I couldn’t do it,’” said Godbey. “I said, ‘Yeah, you could.’ Another person said, ‘Once you’ve done it a while, you get used to it.’ I said, ‘You never get used to it, but you deal with it.’
“When you get used to (dealing with the deceased or fatality victims), you don’t have the compassion anymore,” he added. “When you get to the point that it doesn’t bother you, you need to not be doing the job anymore.”