Benton coroner candidates tout experience

KENNEWICK — The two candidates for Benton County coroner both say experience is what makes them the best person for the job.

But John Hansens and Alberta "Bert" Redwing take a different stance on what experience is most beneficial in qualifying for the $94,788-a-year coroner job.

Hansens, a veteran detective with the Richland Police Department, says his investigative experience gives him the edge. He has been a cop for 31 years -- 21 as a detective -- and has conducted countless death investigations.

"Death investigations are the most difficult. They are the most complex, and they are most important," Hansens said. "This is an investigating office (with a responsibility) to determine the manner and cause of death."

Redwing, 47, says she has the on-the-job experience, with eight years in the coroner field and six years as deputy coroner in Benton County.

She said she has done "thousands of death investigations and hundreds of autopsies." She said she knows what it's like to sit with a family member of someone who has died, hold their hand and try to help give them answers.

"I love what I do. I do it with my whole heart and soul. It's my chance to give families answers," Redwing said. "The role of the coroner is to speak for those who can no longer speak for themselves."

Redwing and Hansens are vying for the seat being vacated by Rick Corson, who chose not to seek re-election after one term in office.

Redwing has received $14,943 in campaign contributions and has spent $10,308, according to the Public Disclosure Commission's website. Hansens is trailing Redwing with $11,548 in campaigncontributions, but he has spent $10,580.

Redwing worked in the coroner's office before Corson took over but left in 2008 "because of irreconcilable differences" with Corson.

She has been endorsed by former coroner Floyd Johnson and Dr. Daniel Selove, a forensic pathologist from Everett who performs autopsies in Benton County.

Hansens ran for the coroner post in 2006 and lost to Corson. He has been endorsed by Corson, Yakima County Coroner Jack Hawkins, numerous Benton County officials and Benton County's law enforcement agencies, including Sheriff Larry Taylor and Richland Police Chief Tony Corsi.

Hansens said he has been a detective for more than two decades and loves what he does. He didn't seek out advancement to an administrative position in the police department, but said, "I actually consider myself at the top because I get to do all the interesting things."

At 56, Hansens said he is ready to turn in his badge and move to a job that is less physically strenuous, but he still wants to use the skills he has developed during his career.

He said he has been at numerous autopsies, helped assist in removing organs and clothes, and knows how to conduct a death investigation without contaminating a potential crime scene.

Hansens said he also has a degree in business that will be useful in running the small coroner's office with a tight budget, is compassionate and knows how to work as a team and build relationships.

If elected, Hansens said he would like to start a program to bring at-risk youth to the coroner's office and share real-life stories about how people in similar situations have ended up dead in that office. He also said he has no concerns about potential conflicts with the agencies and officers he has spent his career working with.

"The coroner's office is an independent office. Its opinions are binding in court," Hansens said. "You have to make the final decision -- I'm used to that. I'm used to being in an area where you are demanded to have full accountability."

Redwing said she has been working as a freelance chief deputy coroner and pathologist technician since she left the coroner's office and has all the skills needed to handle the full-time, 24-hour on-call job that examines about 1,000 deaths a year.

She said she has a wealth of knowledge in identifying how long someone has been dead -- something that is learned through firsthand experience -- and has completed thousands of death investigations in her eight years in the field.

Redwing said the most important qualities a coroner needs to have are medical knowledge, compassion and open eyes.

"Every time you walk through that door, your eyes are open," she said. "You don't want to walk in saying, 'We have a homicide.' You want to walk in saying, 'We have a death.' "

She said she cares about the families she comes into contact with and wants to make sure every person who loses a loved one gets the answers they need.

Both Hansens and Redwing are running as Republicans.

-- Paula Horton: 509-582-1556; phorton@tricityherald.com