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Island County Coroner faces medical doctor in race for another term

Dr. Robert Bishop left his full-time veterinary practice 16 years ago when he was elected Island County coroner, and that’s a job he hopes voters will let him retain in the Nov. 2 election.

Bishop keeps his DVM credentials up-to-date and fills in for a veterinary friend on the island, but his true avocation is Island County coroner.

The coroner’s job is to investigate deaths, but not all of them. If the death is obviously from natural causes there is no need for a coroner. But if there is anything suspicious as to the nature of a death, the coroner is called for a professional death investigation.

Bishop’s opponent in the election, Paul Thompson, is a political newcomer and retired ophthalmologist who stresses his medical doctor credentials. “An MD for Coroner,” is boldly printed on his political signs.

“It makes a lot of difference in the investigation of the job and manner of death,” Thompson said of his medical degree. “He’s (Bishop) missing the medical background ... where medicine meets the law.”

Bishop scoffs at this allegation, pointing to his years of medical investigations and the status he earned in 2005 as the first Board Certified Medicolegal Death Investigator in Washington.

Thompson still maintains that his medical degree would be an advantage as coroner. “He’s limited in expanding his knowledge. I’ve got the medical thing covered,” he said.

Thompson spent most of his career in Saudi Arabia where he raised his family in an American compound. “Unexpectedly, I loved it there,”he said.

“I was never a regular opthomologist, I was a medical surgeon opthomoligist,” he said, stressing his surgical credentials.

Bishop counters that surgical experience is not needed as Island County coroner. An outside forensic pathologist does whatever autopsies are needed. Last month, 10 were required, which is a high number. “The worse thing is they’ve been emotional ... a lot of young people,” he said.

Working with loved ones is a very important part of the job that Bishop strongly emphasizes. “We treat them the way we’d want to be treated,” he said of himself and his deputy coroner. “They’re entrusting you with their loved ones.”

Bishop closely examines the scene of the death, the victim and evidence. “It’d better hold up in court,” he said. “This is the point of the death investigation. There are a lot of players but I put it all together from scene to subject to samples.”

“Nobody else is qualified in this county. I’d hate to see us go backwards,” he added.

Thompson argues that his medical background would be more helpful at the scene of investigations and he could more quickly determining the cause of death. This could save the county money, he said, as each autopsy costs approximately $30,000.

But Bishop isn’t worried that anyone can claim that he’s overspending his budget. “We’ve got the smallest office in the county and our caseload is up 50 percent,” he said. This year his office has investigated 258 deaths, up from 198 last year.

Nevertheless, Bishop said he’s never asked the budget-strapped board of commissioners for more money. “They’re cutting $16,000,” he said of the 2011 budget. “But they give me what I need.”

Robert Bishop

• Age: 52

• Family: Wife and a child

• Resides: In Coupeville

• Occupation: Island County Coroner since 1994, part-time doctor of veterinary medicine.

• Political party: Republican

Paul Thompson

• Age: 64

• Family: Married; 4 grown children.

• Resides at: Useless Bay Colony.

• Occupation: Retired MD in opthamology

• Political party: Independent

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