Yakima County Coroner candidates say experience sets them apart

YAKIMA COUNTY, Wash. — The race to determine who will take on the position of Yakima County Coroner is a little different this year because the candidates are not just competitors, but colleagues.

Yakima County Coroner Jim Curtice and Chief Deputy Coroner Marshall Slight have been working together for the past four years and have continued to do their jobs side-by-side while campaigning for the same position.

“We get along great; we work very hard together,” Curtice said. “It’s just made the office a little bit awkward. We don’t talk politics in the office.”

Slight said they’ve both kept the importance of the coroner’s office on the mind as they’ve continued to work together toward a common goal: investigating all deaths not appearing to be from natural causes in Yakima County.

“I don’t know if he’ll invite me to Christmas dinner, but no, we’re both professionals and we’re pretty easy, laid-back guys,” Slight said.

Both candidates are experienced, but when it comes to choosing between them, they said the type of experience they each have is what matters.

Slight has 13 years of experience as the chief deputy coroner and has been involved with hundreds of death investigations.

“I’ve worked with a lot of coroners and I’ve seen what works and what doesn’t,” Slight said. “I know I can do a great job for Yakima County in the coroner’s office.”

Curtice has more than 20 years of experience as a paramedic, thousands of hours of continuing medical education and has spent the past four years serving as coroner.

“In 2019 became Yakima’s first American Board of Medicolegal Death Investigator,” Curtice said. “It’s a kind of a national-wide certification.”

Both Curtice and Slight believe one of the biggest issues facing the coroner’s office is having to outsource autopsies because there’s no forensic pathologist on staff.

“We have to travel to Seattle, Spokane, Tumwater, Longview, you know, anyone that will accept the cases that we have,” Slight said.

That’s an issue when having to travel a long distance and wait for the pathologist to catch up to the case may delay it for several days or weeks. Curtice said the timing of the autopsy is important for both loved ones and investigators.

“So the decedent can go back to the family and … be put to rest in a timely fashion,” Curtice said. “Also, as time goes on, evidence can be lost.”

However, it’s not an issue of funding a position, but of finding a qualified person who isn’t already employed at another agency.

“There’s not enough forensic pathologists that are going into the field so we need to get some more of those, but it’s a long, 8 to 10 years process,” Slight said.

Whoever wins the race for coroner will be taking on the challenge of getting the office fully staffed to serve the people of Yakima County.

“If reelected, my number one priority is to continue being proactive within the office. I’ve been proactive for the last four years in getting a couple of grants, one for a cadaver dog, the other one for an x ray machine which is going to enhance our death investigations, as well as save the county thousands of dollars annually,” Curtice said.

“I enjoyed doing what I do; I’ve been doing it, you know, for 13 years, hands on experience,” Slight said. “I know, you know, what needs to be expected. Pretty much just trying to help the families to get the closure that they need.”

Slight said regardless of the results, he plans to stay on with the coroner’s office. Curtice said he’ll have to wait and see what happens.