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Davis runs for second term as coroner

COVINGTON -- Tommy Davis started working in a funeral home when he was just 15 years old.

One of the first funerals he assisted with was for a friend's grandmother. "I saw how much it comforted the family to have someone they knew there," Davis said, and he decided to make that his life's work.

Now, with 28 years of experience in the funeral business, Davis is seeking a second term as coroner of Newton County. Davis, who first took office in 2009, is running as a Republican.

As coroner, Davis responds to any suspicious or unusual deaths in the county, accident scenes, homicides, suicides, and deaths unattended by a physician, to determine the cause, manner and circumstances of the death. The coroner's office is called on by law enforcement, and the local hospital also calls the coroner when a patient dies in the emergency room or dies prior to having been in the hospital for 24 hours. Hospitals outside the county may also call on the coroner's office here if the circumstances that caused the death originated in Newton. The office consists of the coroner, deputy coroner, and three transporters, and handles about 200 cases a year.

"There's a lot more to the job than people think," Davis said. "We don't just respond to the scene. We investigate these deaths. We're on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year."

Davis sits on the local Child Fatality Review Panel, which reviews and investigates the death of every person under age 17. The panel aims to find ways to prevent similar deaths in the future. Davis joins with other coroners in reporting types of deaths to state and national organizations who can then inform the public of patterns and signs to watch for to prevent more deaths.

Of late, there have been increasing numbers of deaths by prescription drug abuse, child deaths due to asphyxia due to a popular choking game and accidental deaths resulting from parents sleeping with, and smothering, their small children, Davis said.

There has also been an increase in transient people coming through Newton, and the coroner must work with law enforcement to identify those individuals and notify their families. Davis said he prefers to handle family notifications himself so that he can make sure families are treated with compassion, a trait that he calls "a must" to be a good coroner.

"This is the hardest time in life. You can lose your home, lose your job, get divorced, but when you lose a loved one, that is the lowest point in your life," he said. "No matter what the situation, no matter what the circumstances of the person's death, the people that we have to talk to still love that person, and when we get there we have to treat them compassionately."

Davis has lived in Newton County for more than 20 years. He grew up in Lithonia and attended DeKalb College and the Gupton-Jones College of Mortuary Science in Atlanta to become a licensed funeral director and embalmer. He continues his training annually through the Georgia Coroner's Training Council.

Davis' father, Major Harold Davis, served as deputy coroner of Newton County under former Coroner Bob Wheeler. When his father died in 2003, Wheeler asked Davis to become deputy coroner. He served in that position until Wheeler retired and Davis was elected.

Davis is the owner of J.C. Harwell and Son Funeral Home. He and his wife Mary Evelyn have three daughters and one granddaughter.

Davis is a member of First Baptist Church of Covington, is a Mason and a member of Covington Rotary Club and the local Elks Lodge. He does not have opposition in the July 31 Primary but will face Democrat Robert Bradley in November.