Coroner Stark’s Office Investigator Retires After Nearly 40 Years
TOWNSHIP – The Vietnam War was in full swing overseas when 10-year-old Rick Walters and his pals hopped on their bikes and raced the city streets with every emergency they heard on the radio.
“It was one of those old GI radios,” Walters recalls. “I was carrying a first aid kit. There were a lot of deaths along Tusc. We would jump on our bikes and ride and sew in rubber, like adults do these days.”
Now 66, Walters retires today after nearly 40 years as a forensic investigator for the Stark County Coroner’s Office, having served under five coroners.
“When I started it was just under 300 cases (each) a year. Now we’re over 600 cases a year,” Walters said. “Ambulance calls have quadrupled in 33 years.”
The coroner takes care of homicides, accidents, suicides, drug overdoses … – “all deaths occurring in the field, certain deaths in hospital, deaths in retirement homes …”, a Walters said. “We are taking probably 6,000 calls that are reported to us and we have over 600 cases.”
They also respond to calls from rescuers or law enforcement officers who often call with questions, a funeral home issue, or a death certificate issue.
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Walters said he never tried to keep track of how many bodies he had moved and didn’t like to talk about their deaths, mainly out of respect for the family of the deceased.
“Anyone with a lot of law enforcement experience has had the pleasure of working with Rick Walters,” Stark County Sheriff George T. Maier said. “People should take their hat off to him. He’s done a lot of work over the years that a lot of people wouldn’t want to do.”
Walters joined the Plain Township Fire Department in 1973 at the age of 18, when he graduated from Oakwood High School, now GlenOak. A volunteer firefighter for six years, he also worked with his father, owner of the Triangle Mold & Machine workshop in Hartville.
And he met his wife at the fire department, where she too was a volunteer. The couple also worked for private ambulance companies, transporting bodies.
When funeral home directors spoke of a great need for help transporting bodies, the couple started W&W Funeral Home Services in 1979, transporting bodies across the country.
The Stark County Coroner’s Office was among their clients, and when the investigator fell ill, then coroner Dr James Pritchard asked Walters for help.
Walters was hired at the coroner’s office on January 6, 1984, working 24 hours a day, seven days a week, alternating, “one week and one week off,” as it continues to be. The investigator at the time, Jack Munas, worked the weeks Walters was off duty.
Harry Campbell replaced Munas in July 1994 when Munas retired after 12 years of service.
“I remember the first time I met Rick. (It was) at a suicide scene on Pekin Road in the canton of Paris in June 1994. He was taking matters into his own hands and doing his job,” said Campbell said. “I couldn’t ask for a better partner. Between him and me, we probably worked 20,000 cases.”
Walters cut back to part-time work when his parents started suffering from Alzheimer’s disease in the late 1990s, and he cut back again to care for his wife in 2006. He took care of her. until her death in 2014 from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD, an inflammatory lung disease, then returned to work full time.
Most recently, Walters helped train his replacement, Tammy Wilkes.
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He’s seen a lot of changes over the years, but the biggest change, he said, is in DNA.
“Until DNA, you didn’t know who the hell you had. A blood test will give you a blood type, but before DNA, in the early years, we were really flying,” he said. said, noting that it was taking a long time. time before proving the identity of a deceased person to a grieving family.
Dealing with families is the hardest part
The hardest part of his job isn’t getting to a homicide scene or dealing with a dead body. It is to advise families.
“Getting people out of bed in the middle of the night and saying ‘Your child is dead …’ There is no easy way to do it,” he said. “It’s one of the most stressful.”
Walters understands what families go through.
“The families are what makes it difficult, how they react,” he said. “When you’re dead, you’re dead. Families live.… We hear from them for eight or nine months afterwards because they have a hard time dealing with death.”
When he leaves his job today, more than anything, Walters will be missed “by the people,” he said. “We have always had a very good staff. Police, firefighters and emergency nurses …”
Emergency room nurses “probably have the hardest job of all. It’s not the patients, it’s the families. Families are really terrible with these nurses.”
“They still have to deal with families within the first 10 minutes of families who find out their loved one has passed away. Some of them react with violence and why they react that way to caring nurses is beyond me. nurses have to be treated in emergency rooms … “he said.
Now the adventure begins
Rest is not easy either when working around the clock with an ever increasing workload.
“I haven’t slept well in 20 years,” Walters said, adding that recently, “I’m sleeping again which is good.”
Walters has his own plans – a lot of them.
“I have a kayak, a motorcycle, a Mustang … I go to a lot of auto shows. I do exchange meetings, garage sales. I don’t sit still,” he said. “I might be going to Florida to visit my daughter, but I don’t plan on taking a lot of trips. I would love to go to Hawaii, but they are probably still in lockdown (COVID).”
Amateur radio amateur, he is also interested in electronics. And he can’t wait to spend more time with his dog Reagan Marie, a purebred Chihuahua who turns 7 in December.
“I want to thank him for his service to our community,” said Coroner Dr. Ron Rusnak, whom Walters has known since Rusnak began working in the emergency department at Aultman Hospital in 1991. “He will be sorely missed. He gave (his work) 100% and I never neglected anything. I loved working with him, I will miss him and wish him good luck. “
Contact Lori at 330-580-8309 or [email protected]
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