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Another Niagara County coroner resigns, staff at half-strength

There's no such thing as a typical day for a Niagara County coroner, but the stress and time demands can be too much for some.

"There are times when there's no calls for days, and then there are days when you're gone from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. I've done that," Coroner Michael A. Ross of Lockport said.

For the fourth time in less than 18 months, a coroner is resigning, as Calvin W. Rhoney of Middleport said he is stepping down, effective Friday.

Meanwhile, Coroner Dwon Daniels of Niagara Falls is off the job after tearing a tendon in his knee on his regular job as a city firefighter. That means only two of the normal four coroners will be available during the Memorial Day weekend.

"The other day I spent 3 1/2 hours waiting for a family to decide on a funeral home and for the funeral home to arrive," Coroner Joseph V. Mantione of North Tonawanda said. That was his second call of the day. Right after he got home, Mantione received another call. He's handled 142 deaths since Jan. 1.

"I was on this call where I couldn't find a relative," Ross said of a person who died alone at home. "While I was on that call, I had another one in the Town of Niagara. I had to say, 'Get another coroner. I see no end to this one.' Who's going to sit there? The police won't."

The coroners are elected in four separate districts for four-year terms. The County Legislature must fill midterm vacancies, and they've had to do that frequently in recent months.

The coroners are paid $17,500 a year. They don't receive mileage, and they have to buy their own supplies. The county doesn't even give them cellphones.

"They keep quitting. As legislators, we need to do a better job screening the people we appoint," said Legislator Jason A. Zona, D-Niagara Falls. "What we should do is compensate the coroners properly. They shouldn't be paying for their own supplies."

"More workload, paperwork, the pay isn't there, the cost of doing business," Mantione said when asked why the job is becoming more unattractive.

"People think we go out and pronounce someone dead and sign a piece of paper and leave," Mantione said. "You're Googling, Facebooking, trying to find a family member."

Despite the hassle, Mantione said he's running for his fifth term this November.

Rhoney said he and his wife are spending an extra $130 a month on gasoline since he became coroner, because they take two cars everywhere they go, in case Rhoney gets a call.

"Unfortunately, being county coroner has cost me more money than it pays," Rhoney wrote in his letter of resignation.

Rhoney said Daniels' injury was the last straw.

"We're expected to cover for (Daniels) while he's off," Rhoney said Thursday. "I don't mind sticking it out until Dec. 31, but Niagara Falls is not part of my agreement."

Rhoney was appointed last November, after Kenneth V. Lederhouse resigned. The Legislature's first choice to replace him, Jacqueline E. DeCarlo, quit after one day in office when she reconsidered whether she could handle the demands of being on call each and every day, around the clock.

His departure leaves only Ross and Mantione on call.

A special meeting of the Niagara County Legislature is scheduled at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday to appoint Rhoney's replacement.

James E. Carroll of Porter, who had the District 1 coroner seat until losing last year's election to Daniels, is under strong consideration for Rhoney's District 4 spot, County Attorney Claude A. Joerg said. Carroll was planning to run this fall for the District 3 seat Ross is giving up at the end of the year.

The county is studying whether to switch to the medical examiner system Erie County uses.

But Zona, who is serving on that study committee, said that might be three times as expensive as the coroner system, even though all of Niagara County's autopsies already are performed by Erie County medical examiners.

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