Bryant challenging Hackley for coroner position

Published 11:40 am Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

EDITOR’S NOTE: The LaGrange Daily News is doing a series to help voters get to know the candidates for the upcoming local elections on May 21. Today we are writing about the candidates for Troup County coroner.

In May, incumbent coroner Erin Hackley will face off against Clay Bryant. Both candidates are running as Republicans. No other candidates have qualified to run for the position.

Before being elected coroner, Hackley worked as a paramedic for Troup County and later as deputy coroner. Now as a full-time coroner, she still serves as a part-time paramedic, working about a day per week.

Bryant is a former Georgia State Trooper, criminal investigator and police chief for Hogansville. He currently works as an author having published multiple books on cold case murders he helped solve.


Hackley said she never saw herself being a coroner but on her first death call as a paramedic, she met former Troup County Coroner Jeff Cook and became interested in what he did.

“I met Jeff Cook and just watched what he did and knew then that I wanted to work with him,” Hackley said. “When I asked him for a job, he told me I was crazy. About four years later, he finally gave me a job.”

Hackley said Cook started teaching her the ropes and made her his deputy coroner in July 2016. She was named chief deputy in 2017 after Amy Sheppard was hired. Sheppard currently serves as Hackley’s deputy coroner.

Bryant said he is seeking the coroner position because it’s a job along the lines of what he’s always done.

“The coroner’s job in Georgia, a lot of people think of it as a medical position in Georgia. It’s not as much a medical position as a forensic position. The state medical examiner handles the cause of death, the reason the physical life stops. He’s going to tell you all those things from his autopsy, but the coroner’s position investigates the circumstances around the death,” Bryant said, “Your job simply is to say if the death was a homicide, suicide, natural causes or an accident.”

“I’ve been a paramedic and a paramedic instructor, but I’ve also been in investigation most all my life. The coroner’s position is something that I think that with my experience and background, I can serve the people of Troup County well,” Bryant said.


Hackley said there are a lot of important responsibilities of the coroner throughout the death investigation process but none more so than being accurate for families.

“[The biggest responsibility] is giving accurate answers as to why their loved one is deceased,” Hackley said.  “The biggest responsibility of the coroner is to ensure that no stone is left unturned in a death [investigation]. If it’s outside of a medical environment or not under medical supervision, such as hospice, then it’s a corner case and the coroner needs to make sure that the situation is what it appears to be,” Bryant said.


Hackley pointed to her previous experience as coroner and deputy coroner for her qualifications.

“I have eight years of experience in the office. I have investigated approximately 1,000 deaths here in Troup County. I have 16 years of medical training, and I have countless hours of post-secondary education, in death investigations and medical, as well as grief counseling,” Hackley said.

Bryant said his nationally documented history of solving cold cases shows he can do the job.

“I have been named one of the top cold case investigators in the country,” Bryant said. “I have a law degree I obtained in 1980. I’ve got over 30 years of law enforcement experience and a good bit of that in homicide investigation, and I’m a lifelong resident of Troup County.”


Hackley said with death investigations she begins by taking a step back. She said it’s not always as easy as a bullet wound or a knife sticking out of them, so they have to look into their medical history and talk to doctors.

“We have to kind of figure out all their history, and we kind of piece it together like a puzzle,” Hackley said.

Hackley said only 6 to 8 percent of deaths are accepted by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation for an autopsy, so only suspicious deaths are typically sent for further investigation. If they aren’t sent to the state, Hackley said she takes it from there and makes the call on the cause of death.

Bryant said you have to take into account the totality of the circumstances around a death.

“If you’re investigating the death, you want to look at things like what’s going on in the person’s life. If there was a conflict with anybody, if there was some financial gain that somebody may have gained from the death, those types of things, but you need to do it very carefully because you’re dealing with a family that is in grief,” Bryant said.