For nearly two decades, Earl Piper has been a presence in the lives of local families, helping them gain answers and clarity in some of the most difficult and tragic moments.
This fall, Piper will be leaving the office of county coroner, after serving his second round of two consecutive terms.
Brown County will elect a new coroner this fall, but the Republican candidate is no stranger to the office.
Mike Moore will be on the ballot this November after winning the primary election this year with more than 1,600 votes. Vivian Jo-Lynn Grimes also ran on the Republican ballot and received 717 votes.
Moore, a captain with the Brown County Sheriff’s Department, has served as chief deputy coroner alongside Piper since 2010. He holds a certification as a Medicolegal Death Investigator (MDI) through the Indiana Coroners Training Board. He began working as a deputy sheriff in Brown County in March 1990.
One of Moore’s goals for the office is to continue the level of professionalism that has been instituted in the office of coroner by Piper, who will continue to work as Moore’s chief deputy.
“He’s ready to start from day one,” Piper said of Moore. “He’s going to have a pretty good chief deputy and that’s going to be me.”
Because of Moore’s qualifications, Piper said he could be sworn in today.
“I was the one that talked him into running,” Piper said of Moore.
If no independent candidates file to run for coroner, Moore will face no competition this general election, but he will still have to go through the election process before he could be sworn in as the new coroner next year.
A coroner determines the manner of death in cases involving violence, accidents or unexplained circumstances and must notify the police agency with area jurisdiction of such deaths. A coroner also employs physicians to do autopsies when required and reports cause of death to county health officers. A coroner may also act as a peace officer, performing the duties of the sheriff if the sheriff is incapacitated or disqualified and does not have a chief deputy. The coroner can also arrest a county sheriff when a warrant is issued.
Piper first ran for coroner in 2002. He officially began in January 2003. He served two four-year terms before sitting out a term. He decided to run again and was ultimately elected to serve another two terms. Coroners cannot serve more than two consecutive terms.
Before deciding to run for the office, Piper worked as a deputy coroner.
“I said, ‘Well I’m going to run to see if I can better the office,’” Piper said of his decision to put his name on the ballot for coroner.
“That’s what I did.”
A few years before Piper became a deputy in the coroner’s office, he worked at a funeral home that removed bodies different scenes.
Piper would be on different scenes, responding to calls “day and night,” he said.
While responding to the calls, the coroner would ask Piper to help him. That is when he decided to become a deputy coroner.
After 16 years as coroner, Piper said it is better organized now. During his time as coroner, Piper said he also worked to ensure his office had a professional environment and that all of the deputy coroners were adequately trained. He also established a physical office at his own office in the Bond-Mitchell Funeral Home, since the county did not have one.
In four years Piper could run for coroner again, but he said this will be his last term.
“I’m getting old, I’m getting tired,” he said.
He also has cancer, which he has battled for a number of years. The job has added to physical wear-and-tear, but Piper said there are no regrets.
“Hopefully (the community) will understand I did what they were nice enough to elect me to do. They entrusted me to do the job and hopefully I accomplished what I was entrusted to do,” he said.
With Moore’s experience in law enforcement, Piper said he’s used to doing different investigations including death.
“Law enforcement and the coroner have to investigate death in conjunction with each other. He’s very detail-oriented,” Piper said.
“The first time I worked with him on scene, it was OK. The second time I went to him and told him he’s the biggest pain in the butt, but the sense of relief I have with him being captain on scene now. If you need one photo, he has 30. He’ll continue with that. … At this point I don’t know if there’s anyone else that I’d have the comfort level with them doing the job. I know who trained him.”
Reflecting on his tenure as coroner, Piper said you never forget the families of those who pass.
“The hurt, devastation. All deaths are tragic, but the unexpected even more so. Working with different families and dealing with them in one of the most difficult time frames in their life. I was already doing that with funeral home, but it’s a continuation. Some of the images that are burned into my brain will probably never go away.”
Piper said it is not just him living with those images, but all first responders.
“We’re not meant to see what we have to deal with,” he said.
While the toughest part of the job is dealing with the tragic side of death, Piper said the best part is the camaraderie between separate agencies in Brown County, being able to work together side by side.
“We become friends,” he said. “Not, ‘Hey I’m in charge.’ We have never had to explained how any investigation has to go, we formed our system and it’s worked well.”
“Working as a team, discussing investigation — it’s all a well-oiled machine that in this county is working very well. Mike knows the system and I believe without fail he’ll continue it.”
In Brown County, Moore’s career has required him to work with the coroners to gather evidence and attend autopsies. During that time, Piper and Moore decided they would work together.
“At some point Earl and I decided I’d be a deputy coroner to fill in when needed. I trained from his side of it and went from there. … It’s been something that I would not call it a passion, but worked well with my knowledge and training over the years,” Moore said.
“If you’re happy with the way that Earl ran the coroner’s office, you’ll be happy with me. It will be a continuation of his coroner stewardship.”
Even though no one can truly know how an election will go, Moore said he felt fairly confident he was going to win.
“I had training, the current coroner’s support, I know what the office is and what it’s supposed to do. I think a lot of the community also knew that,” he said.
“I am Republican candidate-elect, it doesn’t mean I’ll win in the fall. I still have to go through the election process, but I still feel confident. Still, an election has to occur. I’m not taking anything for granted. I’m going to campaign at the fair and in the fall.”
One reason Moore ran was because Piper asked him to and the other was that Moore believes he’ll do a good job.
“I never ran for an elected office, never thought I would. Because of Earl asking me to and me already having the training and knowing what the job was about, and it was about time for me to retire as a law enforcement officer, county needed someone who has a good grasp on what the office is about. It’s just another way for me to serve the community.”