87-year-old Lucas County coroner retires after 34 years in office

TOLEDO, Ohio (WTVG) - For Dr. James Patrick, January 8th is an important date. He was sworn in as coroner exactly 34 years ago today and now, the date also marks his retirement.

Dr. Patrick turns 88 next month and feels after 34 years as coroner:

"It's about time I took some time off," said Dr. Patrick.

He's enjoyed the role and doesn't take the responsibility that comes with it lightly.

"Besides what I refer to as the 'cops and robbers,' the CSI part of the job, is that we have a public health responsibility to identify what it is that is causing mortality in the community," said Dr. Patrick.

Looking back, he's most proud of the expansion of the Lucas County Coroner's Office into a regional forensic center serving all of Northwest Ohio. When he first started there was one forensic pathologist, now there are five.

"The first year we did 25 autopsies for other counties. We're now doing about 700," said Dr. Patrick.

In those 34 years of service he has noticed progress in preventing traffic accident fatalities, but there has been a steady increase in gun and opioid related deaths. At times there hasn't been enough space in the morgue.

"Where it has caused a major problem for us is in our toxicology lab," said Dr. Patrick.

With the 2020 election looming, Dr. Patrick decided to step aside now to pave the path for his successor and long-time colleague, Chief Deputy Coroner Dr. Diane Scala-Barnett.

Commissioners unanimously approved Dr. Scala-Barnett as acting coroner Tuesday.

"[I have to] fill some very big shoes and I will do the best I can to serve the citizens of Lucas County," said Dr. Scala-Barnett.

If appointed by the Democratic Party, she would be the first female coroner in county history. Now, Dr. Patrick is packing up and waving goodbye from his prime parking spot - trusting the job is in good hands.

Meanwhile the Democratic Party is vetting other candidates besides Dr. Scala-Barnett for the coroner spot through Friday. The party will forward on their recommendation next week.