Lee County Coroner: Goodson, Harris

Wes Goodson to challenge incumbent for office

By Denise DuBois

Wes Goodson is a 30-year Lee County resident who is seeking election to the Lee County Coroner position currently held by incumbent Bill Harris. He will appear on the Republican ballot in Lee County.

Goodson was a volunteer firefighter and has been working as an EMT for seven years. He decided to run for Coroner because he is familiar with dealing with people in times of need.

“I’ve worked with East Alabama Medical Center since 2010 and I work with a funeral home in Opelika,” he said. “I see different things in both fields. To deal with someone at the worst times in life, you have to have a certain level of compassion. I do have that for everyone.

“I felt that we need a change in that office as far as a different level of compassion, professionalism and commitment to the entire county,” Goodson said of campaigning. “I think I’m the person for the job. I’m ready to serve not just my community, but the entire county.”

If he’s elected, Goodson said there are some things he would like to change, but realizes that there is probably a reason for the way certain things are done.

“I would like to learn how the office is structured and after we get in the office, see what we can change,” he said. “There may be a reason things are why they are that the average citizen doesn’t see. That’s one thing: I don’t want to make a promise about what I’ll change then get there and find that I can’t change it.”

Goodson has been employed for seven years as a nationally registered EMT in the EMS department of East Alabama Medical Center. He was previously the Medical Officer at Lyman Ward Military Academy for two years. Goodson has an Associate’s degree from Southern Union State Community College.

Goodson currently serves on the Board of Directors of the Beauregard Volunteer Fire Department, where he served as a firefighter for eight years. He obtained the rank of Lieutenant during his time of service as a volunteer. He also works with Frederick-Dean Funeral Home as a Funeral Home Associate.

Goodson and his wife Priscella, better known as “Prissy,” will celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary this year. They have two children and one grandchild. Goodson and his family are members of Providence Baptist Church in Beauregard where he also serves as a deacon.




 

Bill Harris runs for re-election as county coroner

By Blenda Copeland

Casting his bid for another term as Lee County Coroner is the current incumbent, Bill Harris, now in his 20th year in the position.

Harris has served in the Lee County Coroner’s Office since 1986 when he was appointed as deputy coroner. He has a total combined service of more than 30 years in the office, serving almost the past 20 of them under the title of coroner.

“There’s no substitute for experience,” he said.

Harris hopes to continue serving for at least another term, maybe two. This is the first time in 20 years that he’s faced opposition for the post.

Harris’s path to the coroner’s office began several years ago when he was working for the newspaper that is now called The Opelika-Auburn News. He was an “ambulance chaser” for the newspaper, and during that time developed a close rapport with then-Lee County Coroner John Williams. Around the same time, the newspaper was experiencing a change in ownership.

One day, Harris got a call that Williams was moving to Florida. “Would you like to be deputy coroner?” he was asked. Harris was appointed deputy coroner.

“I ran for (the coroner’s job) in ’98 and I’ve been the coroner ever since,” he said.

For many years, Harris held two jobs that complemented each other: while he was Lee County Coroner, he also was a paramedic working for East Alabama Medical Center’s EMS. He began working the latter job in 1992 and retired from it as an EMS supervisor in November 2016 after a 24 ½-year Alabama-licensed paramedic career.

As for his qualifications to remain Lee County’s coroner, Harris said he’s not affiliated with any funeral home – noting that state law forbids such conflicts of interest. He said he’s not running for the job because of the salary. When he started, he earned $7.50 an hour, and now the salary is in the $25,000 range.

Harris said he’s running to keep his position because he enjoys helping people. He said if, as coroner, he can help ease the emotional pain of family members experiencing a death in their family, then his service is not in vain.

“It’s not just going out there and declaring someone dead,” Harris said of the job. He said it’s a 24 hours a day/7 days a week kind of job – one that has at times caused him to have to leave his wife at the grocery store without a ride home, for instance. (They’ve learned over the years it’s better to ride to places in two separate cars – just in case). The office responds to an average of about 500-700 calls a year.

He explained when someone dies, it could take anywhere from about seven to 10 hours of immediate work on a case, and then if he has to wait for a post mortem examination to be completed, it can take even longer because he must wait for the results in order to certify the cause of death.

Regarding only some of his relevant memberships, Harris is president of the Alabama Coroners Association and has served in that position for 15 of the past 17 years. He was responsible for helping get state legislation enacted that requires education and more stringent qualifications for coroners and deputy coroners. He’s also chairman of the Alabama Coroners Training Commission, which regulates and approves all training for all the state’s coroners and deputy coroners, and serves on the Alabama Organ Center Advisory Board as well as the State Fatality Management Group. He’s the Lee County team leader for the State Mortuary Operations Response Team and saw that Lee County secured more than $200,000 in grant funds for the purchase of state assets stationed in Lee County for mass casualty response. “Most people don’t realize the emergency response units that could deploy if needed,” Harris said of the state’s assets, one of which is stationed in Lee County – a mobile, two-suite unit that could hold up to 18 bodies at a time, if needed, during a mass casualty response.

Harris was the first coroner in the state to be certified as a diplomate of the American Board of Medicolegal Death Investigators. He also has been involved with several civic organizations over the past 40 years.

He attended Auburn University, Southern Union Community College and Opelika State Technical School. He and his wife Christy Mann Harris have four children and three grandchildren.