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A day in the life of the Kershaw County Coroner

Posted: July 6, 2011 1:26 p.m.
Updated: July 6, 2011 1:25 p.m.
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Johnny Fellers, Kershaw County’s Coroner, uses his days at the office to take care of paperwork and run errands.

Kershaw County’s Coroner begins his day at the office by clipping a few rosebuds from a rosebush behind the Sheriff’s office and putting them in a vase on his desk. Then Johnny Fellers lays out all of the paperwork he has to complete across his desk and spends Tuesdays, when the office is open, cleaning it off and running errands.

“This is not a CSI type thing,” Fellers said in reference to his job.

Fellers has been Kershaw County’s coroner for 17 years and served as deputy coroner for eight.

He is one of the few people who can officially sign a death certificate in Kershaw County. Others who have the same authority include doctors, medical examiners or the deputy coroners.

Fellers’ office is in the Kershaw County Law Enforcement building where there is an entire wing for his use. This wing includes his office and space for the two deputy coroners and a chaplain, files of all the deaths in Kershaw County, a morgue, a cooler which can store up to 12 bodies, a sally port for transporting bodies and a bathroom with a shower.

Fellers, who also owns Fellers Furniture Co. in Camden, initially decided to be a coroner when he was a volunteer firefighter working with the rescue team. One day he asked the coroner at the time what happens after the rescue team leaves the scene and the coroner allowed Fellers to see how his job worked.

“That got me hooked,” Fellers said.

When Fellers gets a call he goes to the scene and declares the person dead. Then the body is transported to the morgue in the coroner’s office. While the body is at the office, either a donation or an autopsy may be performed.

Eye and tissue donations are performed by LifePoint, South Carolina’s organ and tissue donation organization. Kershaw County’s coroner’s office was the first in the state which allowed in-house eye and tissue donations. Prior to the structure being built, donations had to be done after hours at the hospital.

Kershaw County contracts Newberry County’s forensic pathologist to perform autopsies which are legally required to be performed for all children’s deaths and homicides.

Fellers said he treats his investigations of deaths as if they were homicides in order to be thorough.

“You have to put the puzzle together in order to complete the puzzle, and each puzzle is different,” Fellers said.

The hardest part of his job, according to Fellers, is knocking on the door to let people know their loved ones have died.

“I call it The Knock,” Fellers said. “I’ve knocked on some mighty fine doors and I’ve knocked on doors barely on the hinges. They open it and see you standing there and they know.”

The coroner’s office sees about 400 to 450 cases per year and Fellers said that number continues to grow because there are more people in the county and more young people dying.

Fellers said children’s deaths are some of toughest to handle and emotionally draining. However, it is his compassion that enables him to do his job.

“I enjoy helping families at the worst times of their life, when they lose a loved one,” he said. “Most of them we can help and some of them we can’t.”

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