County coroner’s job not very political
Garfield County coroner Trey Holt admits his job isn’t very political, but he still has to run for office.
“I think it’s an office where if you do the right job, you’re fine. But if you don’t do the right job it could be very controversial,” he said.
Lucky for him, this will be the third election in which the 41-year-old Republican candidate has no opponent.
“I’m a fourth-generation funeral director. My father had been a deputy coroner in Fremont County,” he said. “I grew up around it.”
With that kind of experience behind him, being a funeral director and becoming a coroner were natural choices for Holt.
“It always seemed rather interesting to me, and I had a pretty good background in it,” he said.
Holt took over for Orval Sowder when Sowder decided to give up his position as coroner in 1994.
“He helped me out quite a bit,” Holt said of Sowder. “Not only when I was a deputy coroner, but when I became coroner.”
Holt worked under Sowder as deputy coroner since 1986.
He also owns Farnum-Holt Funeral Home.
“We purchased this in 1986 from the Richardsons,” he said. “Orval Sowder had a funeral home in Rifle. We ended up purchasing it in 1997.”
As a coroner, Holt’s main job is to determine the cause and manner of death.
“Even if the death is attended and a person comes into the hospital within 24 hours (of death), it’s still a coroner’s case.”
It’s also his choice whether an autopsy is mandated.
“I may or may not have an autopsy. That’s my option. On all criminal cases I’ll have an autopsy done,” he said.
By far the hardest job a coroner has is notifying people about the death of a family member, Holt said.
“That can entail hours and hours of work just to find the next of kin.”
The emotional consequences can be difficult to handle, as well.
“It can get sad and very overwhelming,” he said. “We look at it as – everyone who’s successful at it, they look at it as – trying to make this time for the families as comfortable as possible,” he said. “If you focus on what happened to the deceased, you just can’t handle it.”
Different kinds of sadness can result depending on the age of someone who dies, but it’s always challenging to tell someone, such as a spouse, of a loss, he said.
“Even with the older people, it’s not as tragic, but it can still be sad because that was their lifelong partner,” he said.
One unique aspect about working as coroner in Garfield County is its unusually large amount of multiple-death events, Holt said.
“It seems like this county has way more than its fair share of mass fatalities,” he said.
Coroners from other parts of the state call the area “disaster city.”
Some of those incidents included the Rocky Mountain Natural Gas explosion, the Storm King Fire, the plane crash in Aspen, the shootings of four Latinos in Rifle and the recent firefighter van crash near Parachute.
“I have given talks … on how to handle mass casualties,” he said.
Although Holt doesn’t need to campaign for his job, he is pushing a statewide referendum to mandate coroner qualifications and training.
He feels it’s important because mistakes by one coroner can really bring some heat on the rest of them.
“The Colorado Coroner’s Association has put (out a referendum) that coroner’s offices throughout the state should be educated on death-scene investigation,” he said.
It’s listed as Referendum “C” on the ballot.
As for coroner portrayals on TV, Holt said he’s a fan of the HBO show “Six Feet Under.” And in case anyone was wondering, he said some of the situations on the show ring true, while others don’t.
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