Incumbent Jefferson County Coroner Chad Kelley had no trouble fending off the challenge of one of his former deputies Tuesday night as he picked up the Democratic Party’s nomination for the office. Kelley faces no Republican opposition in November.
Kelley, who has held the office for 10 years, easily defeated former Deputy Coroner Christian Westbrook.
Complete but unofficial totals are:Kelley 5,573 Westbrook 2,403
Westbrook left the coroner’s office under a cloud in 2013 amid allegations of fraud but said he was cleared when an Arkansas State Police Investigation said there was no merit to the allegations.
Kelley, a Pine Bluff native, said he became interested in the job when former Coroner Havis Hester came to Watson Chapel Junior High School and presented a program on the office.
“I was totally enthralled about everything he said, the stories he told and how he helped families,” Kelley said. “I was 16 and went and talked to Havis and Holly (Watkins-Sperry, who at the time was Chief Deputy Coroner and later became Coroner when Hester retired) and they talked me into coming and help run the office. I saw that as my opportunity to get my foot in the door and learn about the office.”
After receiving an associate’s degree from Southeast Arkansas College in 1998, Kelley became a deputy coroner and office manager under Watkins-Sperry for eight years before she made the decision to retire; she encouraged Kelley to run for the office.
“I’ve been doing it ever since,” Kelley said. “I’m running on the job I have done and the way I’ve taken care of families. I try to treat all of them the same way I would want my family to be treated. The hardest part of this job is to knock on a door and tell a family that their son or their daughter or their husband or their wife is not coming home again. It’s something they will never get over.”
Kelley said he has received extensive training for the position, which has included a certificate from the St. Louis University School of Medicine in forensic and environmental technology, training in medical-legal death investigation, child death investigations and others.
“All the training and experience I’ve gained over the past 18 years truly makes me the best candidate,” Kelley said.