La Plata County Coroner Dr. Carol Huser announced this week she plans to resign near the end of the year to pursue “family considerations” away from Durango.
Huser, 62, has served nearly 10 years as county coroner. Her most recent four-year term runs through 2014. County commissioners must appoint someone to fill her remaining term.
Huser made her announcement in a letter sent Monday to county commissioners.
“I want to thank every person in La Plata County, and particularly all those in county government, for making these nearly 12 years some of the best of my life,” she wrote in the letter.
In Colorado, anyone who is 18 and registered to vote can run for county coroner. Corners have the statutory authority and responsibility to investigate and determine cause of death when the death is unnatural, unintended, unexpected, suspicious or when the death occurs on the job or in jail custody.
In addition to serving as coroner, Huser operates a private forensic pathology practice that performs autopsies – the only practice of its kind in Southwest Colorado.
Huser’s departure means many bodies will likely be sent to Grand Junction to be autopsied. That will come at a greater expense to the county and result in delays in learning preliminary autopsy results.
County Manager Joe Kirby said commissioners will likely discuss a process for appointing a replacement next week.
“It’s going to be a significant loss for us, especially with her experience as a forensic pathologist,” Kirby said.
The elected position pays about $42,000 per year in La Plata County.
Huser charges the county a flat rate of $725 per autopsy.
“To the best of my knowledge, it’s the lowest in the state,” Huser said.
To avoid any perceived conflict of interest, she capped the cost to the county at $37,700 per year, or 52 autopsies. Any more than that is free of cost to the county, she said.
She does an average of 50 autopsies per year but is on track to exceed that number this year, she said.
Huser also does autopsies for surrounding jurisdictions, including Archuleta, Montezuma and San Juan counties.
Before moving to La Plata County in May 2001, Huser was district medical examiner for three counties in Southwest Florida. She received a doctorate of medicine from the University of Illinois in 1981 and a fellowship in forensic pathology in 1986. Also, she is a columnist for The Durango Herald.
Huser said she plans to move to Maryland to care for her parents and be near her daughter.
Serving as coroner can be seem dreary and depressing, she said, but it’s also “fascinating and challenging – always different and mysterious with unexpected findings.”
“It’s very hard to be bored,” she said. “I’ve absolutely loved it.”