The county coroner position in Georgia is one of the state's quirky institutions.
The coroner investigates crime scenes, officially declares deaths and determines cause of death - working in conjunction with law enforcement officials - despite the fact it's an elected position that doesn't require a person to have any prior law enforcement or medical training.
The job pays around $23,000, but requires the elected holder to be on call 24/7 in the event of any death. Because of those demands, the state constitution requires counties without a specialized medical examiner's office, like Newton, to have a deputy coroner.
County Coroner Tommy Davis, who also owns Harwell Funeral Home on East Street, recently appointed Steve Jones to be his deputy coroner.
Jones, 47, has served with the Covington Fire Department for 24 years, reaching the rank of battalion chief, and has also worked with emergency medical services and in local funeral homes. Davis was impressed with Jones experience, professionalism and work ethic.
Having been on board of two months, Jones has already seen the highs and lows of the job.
"It can be a time consuming job. Most of the time you see people in their worst condition, families who have lost loved ones," Jones said. "You have to be compassionate and empathetic while also performing your job professionally."
The deputy coroner accompanies the coroner to advanced crime scenes or fills in when the coroner is unavailable. Coroners conduct their own investigations of crime scenes but work closely with law enforcement officers to determine cause and circumstance of death.
Jones took a week-long course at the Georgia Public Safety Training Center.
The deputy coroner is not paid a set salary, but rather makes $175 per case, regardless of how long an investigation takes. An average case takes two to three hours, but complex cases may go on for months, and the coroner is often required to testify in court to confirm the cause of a death. Jones works about eight to 10 hours per month.
The coroner is also responsible for transporting a body from the scene, either taking it to the state crime lab if an autopsy is required or giving it to the family or funeral home.
"I've always been in public safety and I like to help people," Jones said. "Even though a person is deceased, I help by collecting evidence and helping law enforcement make a case (against a suspect) if needed. We also help the family or the funeral home with the body and try to do everything as expeditiously as possible.
"It's been a learning experience. It's not nearly as glamorous as on TV," Jones said, though he noted that it's tough "dealing with the unknown and thinking about that on the way. You don't know what you will get."