3 candidates enter Republican race for Lexington County coroner

Lexington County residents will vote in an extra primary this summer to begin the process of filling the position of county coroner.

Former Coroner Harry Harmon died in April, and Earl Wells was appointed to the office on an interim basis.

Filing for the July 1 primary opened last week, and three Republicans — Frank Barron, Brian Setree and Clay Burkett — filed to run.

Barron is known locally for his 22 years of experience as Richland County coroner. He also has served as the president of S.C. Coroner’s Association seven times.

“I have by far the most experience,” he said. “My track record is as good as you can get.”

During his career, Barron worked in Lexington County’s disaster preparedness plan at the request of Harmon and advocated for safe speed limits to be posted in areas where new developments were built in Lexington County. He is also the co-founder of S.C. Citizens for Life, a nonprofit right-to-life organization.

Barron wants to modernize the Coroner’s Office with advances in forensic death investigation and wants to coordinate with other agencies to save lives.

“I want to create an efficient state-of-the-art coroner’s office for the citizens of Lexington County, fight for tougher DUI laws and work for stronger child protection laws,” he said.

Barron also ran for the office in 2012.

Burkett served Lexington County as a member of the South Carolina State Transport Police until he retired in 2006. The Batesburg-Leesville High School graduate also worked for the Batesburg Police Department as a dispatcher and a police officer before being hired as a training officer by the Leesville Police Department in 1986. He was promoted to the department’s chief two years later.

Burkett was hired in 1991 by the Capital Police and later was named corporal over the Governor’s Mansion. He is now co-owner of the family business Burkett Brothers Tile.

Cutting down on response time is Burkett’s primary goal if elected coroner. The candidate said he has heard multiple stories of residents being held up for an hour or longer after a loved one’s death.

“I will strive to do away with those extended wait times,” he said.

Burkett also wants to establish a reserve coroner staff that would operate like a reserve deputy program. He said the reserve coroners would be trained but would be unpaid so the department and taxpayers wouldn’t incur another expense. Another of Burkett’s goals is to start a volunteer bereavement team so the coroner’s staff would have the option of being assisted by a pastor or other counselor when making death notifications.

A former deputy coroner under Harmon, Setree is the latest to file for the position of coroner.

He started his career in law enforcement with the Leesville Police Department before moving on to work in Cayce, West Columbia and for Lexington County Sheriff’s Department. Setree was in narcotics enforcement and homicide investigation in addition to being a School Resource Officer and resident deputy. He joined the coroner’s office in 2009.

Setree opened up a private investigation business in 2012 after retiring from the Lexington County Sheriff’s Department.

He said he didn’t want to run against Harmon in 2012 but was approached by former coworkers who asked him to consider seeking the office this year after Harmon’s death.

“This felt like the right step for me,” Setree said. “I know the office and … the people who work there. I am familiar with how the county administration and budget work.”

Setree emphasized that compassion must be a key characteristic for the person who assumes the role of coroner.

“I understand a public office is for the citizens,” he said. “I feel that I can connect with families.”

If elected, Setree said he will aim to improve response times and ensure all staff members have up-to-date training. He also wants to use his experience in narcotics enforcement and as a motorcycle rider to educate the public about prescription drugs and the potential for abuse and to advocate for biker safety.

Filing ends at noon May 23. A special primary runoff will be July 15 if necessary. No democratic candidates have filed for the position.