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Pa. coroner is a taxidermist, too

April 10, 1999|By RICHARD F. BELISLE

McCONNELLSBURG, Pa. - Darryl Heckman, a retired Pennsylvania state trooper, has a new career as Fulton County coroner, a job that he said keeps him on call 24 hours a day.

When he's not out determining the cause of death of people who die from violent or unusual circumstances, he heads to the workshop behind his home on Country Lane to relax at this hobby - taxidermy.

His work as coroner, his taxidermy and other hobbies and avocations keep him busy most of the time, except for his regular jaunts to Montana to fish for "arm-long trout" in the Big Horn River.

"I'm doing what I want to be doing," said Heckman, 55.

In 1996, Heckman taught himself woodcarving after seeing examples of the art at a Ducks Unlimited banquet. He specializes in game birds and fish. Catch-and-release fishermen send photographs and dimensions of their trophies for Heckman to reproduce in basswood. He carves and paints each piece. Now he's turning his talents to songbirds, he said.

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He also paints, makes candles and carves feather jewelry from wood. "I like to tinker," he said.

Still not busy enough, Heckman earned his license as a certified accident reconstructionist and started his own business. His clients include lawyers, insurance companies and private individuals.

His coroner career began in 1995, when he completed the course at the Pennsylvania State Police Academy. He was hired as a deputy coroner by Dr. Russell McLucas, who at 40 years on the job was the longest-serving coroner in Pennsylvania history, Heckman said.

McLucas died in December.

He was succeeded by Dennis Buterbaugh, who appointed Heckman as chief deputy. When Buterbaugh resigned in October, Heckman, as chief deputy, automatically succeeded him. Heckman, a Republican, is unopposed for the job in the May primary.

The coroner's job, a part-time position, pays $9,800 a year.

It's the coroner's duty to investigate all untimely or unusual deaths: Homicides, suicides, accidental or suspicious deaths are investigated for cause by coroners in Pennsylvania.

Coroners must also sign death certificates on deaths that did not occur in a hospital, even in cases where a terminally ill patient dies at home.

Heckman said homicides are rare, usually one or two a year in rural Fulton County, but he's called to the scene of five or six fatal accidents every year.

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