SHERIDAN — PJ Kane earns $15,000 per year as coroner for Sheridan County. Comparatively, Sweetwater County’s coroner earns just under $65,000 and Park County’s coroner earns $24,000. Kane and his team at the Sheridan County Coroner’s Office stay busy, with Sheridan County seeing the fifth most deaths in the state in 2017. Even with a consistent workflow, Kane and his team see their positions not as a way to make money, but a way to serve the community.
“We’re not in this for the money; we’re in this for the compassion,” Sheridan County Deputy Coroner Kay Penno said.
Kane holds the sole elected position in the office, which shares a space at Kane Funeral Home. Kane, who used to run the funeral home, retired from that and now only serves as county coroner. When he started in the position in 1985, nearly all county coroners throughout the state also ran funeral homes. Now, the coroner positions take more of a full-time commitment, depending on how many cases come through their offices.
“It’s not something you can do part-time, and that’s why a lot of funeral directors dropped out,” Kane said. “I was in it from the beginning and I find it very interesting and that’s why I’m staying with it.”
Wyoming State Statute Title 7 establishes requirements for county coroners in conducting business.
The statute defines coroners’ cases as deaths that were not anticipated and that may involve the following conditions: violent or criminal action; apparent suicide; accident; apparent drug or chemical overdose or toxicity; the deceased was unattended by a physician or other licensed health care provider; apparent child abuse causes; the deceased was a prisoner, trustee, inmate or patient of any county or state corrections facility or state hospital; the cause is unknown; a public health hazard is presented; or the identity of the victim is unknown or the body is unclaimed.
Beyond the requirements, coroners may choose to examine more or all deaths in the county. Kane said Campbell County reviews every death in the county, which totaled 245 in 2017. Kane, though, works to keep costs for Sheridan County taxpayers down by limiting the scope of his work.
“You can make this office as busy as you want it to be,” Kane said. “I’m trying to be fiscally responsible with the monies…(while still) making sure the job is done, but I’m not going to rake the residents of Sheridan County to do that.”
Out of the 307 deaths recorded in Sheridan County in 2017, Kane and his team reviewed between 100 and 125 of them.
Kane takes little credit for the heavy workload, though, and attributes a lot of the process to his team in the office and local first responders heavily involved in the process.
“It’s not like I’m some great guy that’s doing all this stuff,” Kane said. “We’re basically working with law enforcement to facilitate what investigations they have going on and then we’re trying to bring justice to that deceased individual.”
Kane works closely with law enforcement and other agencies to help teach them best practices that make his job easier, more accurate and efficient.
Kane doesn’t mind the low salary. He and his colleagues do their work mostly as a service to the community, one that keeps them busier than most others around the state.