Rio Grande County hires new coroner


DEL NORTE—In a special meeting on March 27, Rio Grande County Commissioners announced Stephen Hunzeker as the new county coroner.

Chairwoman Karla Shriver gave a brief recount of the previous few days after the initial resignation of long-time county coroner Rusty Strohmayer.

“We received a total of three applications and after a review and discussion on Friday decided to hire Stephen Hunzeker to the office of county coroner,” Shriver said.

Judge Patrick Hayes swore Hunzeker in as the new coroner during the March 27 meeting.

Hunzeker moved to the area and began work as a mortician for the Rogers Funeral Home eight years ago with his wife Melinda. They have three children.

“I am looking forward to serving the county and bringing integrity back to the coroner’s office,” said Hunzeker.

On March 17 Strohmayer turned in his resignation to the county stating, “I am resigning from the office of county coroner effective immediately. I am writing this under protest as I am not able to properly carry out my duties by statute without proper equipment and financial support.”

The county budgeted $101,698 for the 2017 fiscal year, which county commissioners believed was fair, especially in comparison to other counties in the Valley.

Commissioners spoke with County Attorney William Dunn about continuing issues with Strohmayer. According to Shriver, Strohmayer had not returned documents and other equipment from the coroner’s office and commissioners were seeking a way to make sure that both the equipment and documents were returned in a timely manner.

County Administrator Roni Wisdom was the last to speak with Strohmayer. She explained that according to the conversation she had with Strohmayer, he felt that the county had no right to the files and paper documents from the coroner’s office and that he would wipe the computer clean before he returned it to the county. After being concerned about the issue, Wisdom contacted Brenda Bock with the Colorado Coroner Association and was told that Strohmayer would need to return all documents and files to the county immediately.

Wisdom explained that Strohmayer’s intentions behind keeping the documents came from his desire to make sure business was conducted in a legal manner. As far as the return of the missing equipment, Dunn explained that though there were options for the county to file an injunction as suggested by Shriver, he would like the opportunity to first contact Stromayer’s lawyer and advise that it was in his best interest to return the documents and equipment.

Commissioners directed Dunn to contact Strohmayer’s attorney. Stromayer also included a fax to the county stating that they owed him money for jobs completed in the last few months which was confirmed by Wisdom who explained that though they do not owe what he specifically is asking for, they do owe him for mileage, pay through March 17 and some reimbursement for a transfer to Colorado Springs and cooler storage fees. Commissioners said they hoped to negotiate before having to take the issue to court.

Cutline: District Judge Patrick Hayes swears in new Rio Grande County Coroner Stephen Hunzeker during a special meeting of the BOCC on March 27. Photo by Lyndsie Ferrell.