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Kane County Coroner candidates aim to restore integrity to office

The two men seeking to be Kane County’s next coroner aim to restore integrity to the office last held by the late Chuck West, who had come under a cloud of accusations of criminal and ethical misconduct.

On Nov. 6, voters must decide who is best for the job: Republican Rob Russell, 44, or Democrat Tao Martinez, 31.

If it were up to the candidates, they said, their political affiliation would have no basis on the voters’ decision. Rather their vote should be based on the candidates’ qualifications and who is best for the job.

Each candidate believes he has the experience fit for a coroner.

As the founder of a company that provides a cleanup service after death, Martinez bills himself as a “skilled death scene specialist” – a line of work that has also given him experience dealing with grieving families, he said.

“It never gets any easier,” Martinez said, adding he knows the value of being a silent figure of support.

He also has Medicolegal Death Investigation Certifications and has attended 30-plus coroner, medical examiner, forensics, disaster management, bio-terrorism and crime scene investigator conferences.

As a DuPage County Sheriff’s sergeant with 20 years in law enforcement, Russell said his resume mirrors the state statute’s description of a coroner “very well.” In addition to knowing police protocol, he knows how to secure a death scene and knows the procedures for securing evidence and property.

“I have proven experience with the job description,” Russell said.

Russell is running for coroner because in a representative form of government, qualified citizens need to step up and publicly serve others, he said.

Martinez said the position would give him a “lifetime opportunity” to make a difference in the community after years of seeing the direct cause and effect of such acts as suicide and escalating violence.

If elected, Martinez said he would actively raise community awareness about programs promoting safety, health, education and life skills.

“No parent should ever have to bury their child as a result of a suicide, drug overdose or an act of violence,” Martinez said. “By working together, we can help reduce the number of lost lives.”

Russell hopes to be the leader he said the coroner’s office has lacked.

“I will be a 24/7 guy,” he said.

And he will seek to professionalize the coroner’s office through accreditation from the International Association of Coroners and Medical Examiners.

“How many politicians say they want to be held accountable?” Russell said.

Russell said the cost of accreditation would be a “drop in the bucket” compared to the coroner’s overall budget, but Martinez said the county doesn’t have the money.

Accreditation would also require facilities the coroner’s office doesn’t have, Martinez said. He criticized Russell’s plan to share resources with local hospitals.

Taking bodies to an outside facility, Martinez said, “opens the possibility of mismanaged evidence.”

Both candidates said they would work with the media. Martinez said the office’s seclusion has been part of the problem. Russell noted he wouldn’t release information that would compromise an investigation.

Russell and his wife, Susan, live in South Elgin with their four children. Martinez and his wife, Rene, live in North Aurora with their three children.

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