Dr. Dwight McKenna, a general practitioner now on his third run to become the Orleans Parish coroner, and forensic psychiatrist Jeffrey Rouse will face each other in a runoff on March 15.
With all of the results in, McKenna took the lead with 48 percent of the votes. Rouse, a first-time candidate, received 32 percent of the vote.
Vincent “Van” Culotta, an obstetrician who is also president of the Louisiana State Medical Society, got 20 percent.
Although the coroner’s office is not a high-profile elected position, this campaign is nonetheless historic, as whoever wins will replace 40-year incumbent Frank Minyard. Known for his trumpet playing and charity work earlier in his career, Minyard has come under increased scrutiny in recent years, as questions have been raised about his general stewardship of the office and specific calls he made on controversial death cases.
Although Rouse has Minyard’s endorsement, he has joined his two competitors in denouncing the way the coroner’s office has been run.
Each of the candidates pledged to make it more transparent, restoring confidence in the decisions of the forensic pathologists performing autopsies in controversial cases, particularly those of police officer-involved shootings. Those cases have come under increased scrutiny since Hurricane Katrina, with questions being raised about some of Minyard’s rulings.
McKenna, a former general surgeon, has argued he has the most relevant experience to be coroner, saying his work has made him directly familiar with trauma. The argument is that this will help him evaluate the autopsies performed by the office’s pathologists.
Rouse, however, has noted that he’s run the office’s mental health division for years. In Louisiana, coroners are not only responsible for conducting autopsies and making cause-of-death rulings, but also can commit people with mental illness to treatment against their will and oversee sexual assault examinations.
Rouse offered detailed plans to reshape the office, from raising the prices charged for out-of-parish autopsies to requiring videotaping of all autopsies to ensure the process can’t be questioned.
If elected, Rouse said he would work with mental health providers to get better access to treatment for mentally ill patients frequently seen by the coroner’s office for commitments — a proposal he said Minyard vetoed. During a debate, McKenna questioned why Rouse didn’t earlier implement this initiative.
With 366 of 366 precincts reporting:
-- Vincent “Van” Culotta received 20 percent or 15,826 votes.
-- Dwight McKenna received 48 percent or 38.415 votes.
-- Jeffrey Rouse received 32 percent or 25,293 votes.
There were 79,534 votes cast in the coroner’s race.