Saline County coroner serves state organization

Carol Rolf/Contributing Writer Published April 16, 2017 at 12:00 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: William Harvey

Saline County Coroner Kevin Cleghorn is the new president of the Arkansas Coroners’ Association, which strives to educate coroners, as well as members of the public and county officials about the duties of a coroner. Elected county coroner in 2015, Cleghorn has been an emergency medical technician]/paramedic for 29 years.

Kevin Cleghorn of Bryant, 47, has worked in emergency services for most of his life.

He is the Saline County coroner and, most recently, became president of the Arkansas Coroners’ Association.

“I love what I do,” Cleghorn said. “It has its bad moments; it’s a tough job. But there is nothing like sitting across from a family member and explaining, ‘This is why your loved one is not here.’

“You have to explain what happened; you have to put the family’s mind at ease and give them closure. Taking care of people … there is not a better feeling in the world.”

Cleghorn was elected Saline County coroner in 2015. He became president of the state organization earlier this year and will serve a two-year term.

Lt. Jeffrey Silk of the Saline County Sheriff’s Office said Cleghorn “is held in very high regard by everyone” at the Saline County Sheriff’s Office.

“Whether it is a horrific accident on a county road at 3 o’clock in the morning, a late-evening suicide in East End or a Sunday-morning natural-causes death in Hot Springs Village, Coroner Kevin Cleghorn always displays an incredible amount of professionalism and compassion when he arrives on-scene,” Silk said.

“Every member of the Saline County Sheriff’s Office, especially the detectives from the Criminal Investigation Division, have a vast amount of respect for Coroner Cleghorn’s kindheartedness toward grieving family members and his ability to work closely with detectives in bringing those who committed heinous crimes to justice,” Silk said. “Coroner Cleghorn not only investigates deaths, but helps identify bodies, collects the deceased’s belongings and returns them to family members, and signs death certificates, as well as a host of other duties. On occasions, he may also have the heart-wrenching job of notifying the next of kin.

“Coroner Cleghorn has assisted the Saline County Sheriff’s Office in making presentations at Citizen Police Academy classes,” Silk said. “Coroner Cleghorn takes a lot of time in ensuring that his presentations are not only informative, but also interesting. At times, he injects humor to lighten the topic. Every Police Citizen’s Academy class has provided exceedingly high compliments to Coroner Cleghorn.”

“[Cleghorn] is an elected official,” Silk said.

“Without question, Coroner Cleghorn puts the interest of those he serves far ahead of his own. He works tirelessly for the good of the citizens of Saline County,” Silk said. “In conclusion, Coroner Cleghorn puts the next generation ahead of the next election, the good of his team ahead of an agenda and the success of duties as

Saline County Coroner ahead of his own success.”

Cleghorn said the Arkansas Coroners’ Association is pro-education.

“We are pro whatever it takes to improve the profession,” he said. “It’s not necessarily education of our coroners, but education of the community as to what our coroners actually do.

“I love the education. I am available to talk to any quorum court anywhere, anytime. … So is the executive board.”

Other officers of the Arkansas Coroners’ Association are Brad Hays of Mountain Home, vice president; Pam Wells of Alma, secretary; and Stuart Smedley of Hot Springs, treasurer, who is the Garland County coroner.

Aaron Davis, Hot Spring County coroner, has called on Cleghorn several times for guidance.

“Kevin is truly a blessing,” Davis said. “He has helped me tremendously in my position as Hot Spring County coroner. In a county that doesn’t allow the coroner a budget to pay deputy coroners, Kevin is a great resource for me when I need extra help.”

Coroners are “more than just pickup men,” Cleghorn said.

“That is the furthest thing from the truth. It’s a 24/7 job, 365 days a year. We have to attend every death in the county, including home and hospital deaths, as well as those that occur as a result of a crime or accident. We do not have to respond to hospice deaths unless there is a problem that we have to investigate. Very rarely do we do that,” he said.

“There are a lot of misconceptions about coroners. We do not do criminal investigations. That crime scene belongs to the investigator, but the body is ours,” Cleghorn said.

“We are a voice for the deceased. Our job is to know the body,” he said. “We have to know anatomy and physiology. We are charged by Arkansas law to detect cause and manner of that death.

“What we put on that death certificate will affect the family for the rest of their lives. We have to make sure we get it all correct so we will have an accurate history of the manner of death.”

Cleghorn said each Arkansas county is mandated by law to have a coroner, but some counties do not have budgets to fund the office.

He said the Arkansas Coroners’ Association “is not a governing body, but we can help get the local coroners set up and make their jobs easier and better for them.

“Some counties have a budget for the coroner’s office; some don’t. We are trying to get a starter kit together for those coroners who have no equipment. That starter kit would include gloves, cameras … the basic necessities to do the job.”

Cleghorn graduated from Bryant High School in 1988. He attended Henderson State University in Arkadelphia for a year.

“I got sick and left and never went back,” he said. “I went right into the emergency-services field, working as a paramedic. I have been an EMT (emergency medical technician)/paramedic for 29 years, with 22 of those years being in Saline County. I received my training through MedTran Ambulance Service at Saline Memorial Hospital in Benton.”

Cleghorn said he began his career in emergency services after working at a head-injury rehabilitation center in 1990.

“We had a 16-year-old boy who had a seizure,” he said. “I felt so helpless. I vowed then not to be in that position again. I went into EMT school at Texarkana College to learn how to help people. Now I am passionate about it. Even now, I am still a licensed paramedic but do not have time to work on an ambulance.

“I do local education,” he said. “I am an instructor and teach advanced and basic life support to our paramedics.”

Cleghorn said the Arkansas Coroners’ Association is particularly interested in helping prevent infant deaths.

“It’s not just SIDS — sudden infant death syndrome — but SUID — sudden unexpected infant death,” he said. “It’s huge. There are more and more infant deaths.”

Cleghorn is a certified sudden unexplained infant death investigator sanctioned by Arkansas Children’s Hospital, the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and the Arkansas Department of Health, and a sudden unexplained infant death investigation instructor.

Cleghorn began his career in death investigation in 2007 when he joined the Saline County coroner’s office as a part-time deputy. In 2011, he accepted the chief coroner’s position and was certified by the Arkansas State Crime Lab.

In 2012, Cleghorn attended and graduated from the St. Louis University School of Medicine’s Medicolegal Death Investigator program and was licensed in August 2013 as a Diplomat to the American Board of Medicolegal Death Investigators.

“I was the first to hold this title in Saline County,” he said.

In 2014, Cleghorn ran for the office of Saline County coroner and won. He took office Jan. 1, 2015.

“We are a very active office,” he said. “I have two full-time deputies — Chief Deputy

Allyn West of Benton and Jeff McLain of Bryant — and six part-time deputies — Dena Turney, Jay Meeks and Jim Dial, all of Bryant; John Fallis of Watson Chapel; Melanie

Gutteea of Little Rock; and Jeff Ramsey of Benton.

“Someone from this office attends all deaths in Saline County,” Cleghorn said. “Every death within the county is required by law to be reported to this office. Last year, there were 700 deaths in Saline County. Deaths have been steadily increasing over the last few years. That’s due in part to an aging population, but also due to the increase in population overall.

“As our population increases, so does our mortality rate. In 2025, it is estimated the population of Saline County will be 130,000; we now have 120,000. Plus, we are on a major interstate system. A lot of traffic comes through Saline County.”

In January of this year, Cleghorn assumed leadership of the Arkansas Coroners’

Association.

“Elections were held in December 2016,” he said. “I will serve as president for two years. The association is responsible for providing educational programs for all of the coroners in Arkansas. It is mandated by law that each county have a coroner.”

In addition to being a member of the state coroners’ association, Cleghorn is also a member of the Arkansas EMT Association.

Cleghorn is a nationally licensed forensic death investigator, a state-licensed paramedic and a national registered paramedic. Additionally, he is director of the South Central Region of the Infant and Child Death Review Committee, which covers a 12-county region, and a member of the Arkansas Coroners’ Association’s inaugural education development committee.

In his spare time, Cleghorn sings baritone with the gospel music trio NHIM.

“My music is my release from what I see day to day,” he said, adding that he plays multiple instruments.

“I come from a family of musicians,” he said. “I was raised up in a musical family.”

Cleghorn started singing when he was a child, singing his first solo in church at the age of 3. By the time he was a teenager, he was playing bass guitar alongside his father with the New Horizons Quartet. Cleghorn later ministered with his family as The Cleghorns.

A son of Rosette Cleghorn of Bryant and the late Rodney Cleghorn, Kevin Cleghorn has two younger brothers — 43-year-old twins, Raymond Cleghorn and Damon Cleghorn.

“God knew there shouldn’t be two of me,” Kevin Cleghorn laughed, when asked about the history of twins in his family.

Kevin Cleghorn and his wife, Kelly, who is a registered nurse, have three children — 21-year-old twins, Kyle and Cole, and 10-year-old Gabriel.

The family attends First Assembly of God Church in Benton.

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