Coroner candidates trade barbs, accusations Tuesday |

Coroner candidates trade barbs, accusations Tuesday

Kara Bettis
Zach Mahone |

About the coroner

The coroner’s jurisdiction is limited to determining who the deceased was and how, when and where they came by their death. When the death is suspected to have been either sudden with unknown cause, violent, or unnatural, the coroner decides whether to hold a postmortem examination and, if necessary, an inquest.

For information on Franciose’s background and qualifications, visit

For information on Bettis’ background and qualifications, visit

EAGLE COUNTY — If Tuesday’s debate is any indication — and it is — this fall’s bare knuckles political brawl will be the coroner’s race.

Challenger Sue Franciose says incumbent coroner Kara Bettis isn’t doing everything possible to ensure organ and tissue donation.

Bettis disagrees, saying it’s not as simple as her opponent wants it to be.

After some introductory remarks, the two got down to business about the Eagle County Coroner’s Office’s relationship with Donor Alliance, a private company coordinating organ and tissue donations in Colorado and Wyoming.

“The Donor Alliance has never had any phone calls from the Eagle County Coroner’s Office,” Franciose said.

Bettis insisted that’s not true.

“I absolutely support the Donor Alliance, and I have released several bodies to the Donor Alliance,” Bettis said.

Bettis said most of her releases come through the Vail Valley Medical Center, not through the coroner’s office.

The Donor Alliance said they have 139 referrals from VVMC since 2008. It’s also not possible to donate organs unless someone dies in a hospital, said Andrea Smith, communications director with the Donor Alliance.

Timing is everything

If someone dies in the hospital, the hospital is required to ask their loved ones if they want tissue and organs from the person who passed away donated. Most people agree, especially if that loved one had made clear their wishes to be an organ donor.

However, when people die outside hospitals, determining time of death becomes less exact, and that becomes a problem in organ and tissue donation.

Tissue has to be removed within 24 hours of the last time the deceased person was confirmed to be alive; organs must be harvested within 12 hours.

The cause of death must be determined, and the family’s permission must be obtained.

“I feel that when I’m on a scene, I don’t want to upset the family even more by asking them that,” Bettis said. “The people I deal with are very upset because they just lost a loved one.”

Bettis said she talked with coroners in Denver, Pitkin and Larimer counties, and they handle the issue the same way she does.

Franciose said that doesn’t mean there isn’t a better way to do it.

“The coroner’s role can be so much more,” Franciose said.

Franciose said she sees opportunities to expand the public service of the Coroner’s Office. She wants to talk with kids about texting and driving as well as drinking and driving. Kids might shrug off warnings from law officials, she said, but the delivery from a coroner, who sees death all the time, might capture their attention.

It’s not about the Benjamins

Coroners are paid $44,500 annually. It is set by the state Legislature, and they probably won’t be getting a raise in 2015.

Bettis, a Democrat, won election in 2002 over another deputy coroner and ran unopposed in 2006 and 2010.

Franciose, a Republican, was a deputy coroner for two years and eight months. She said she resigned to help a friend battle cancer.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and

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