- Associated Press - Monday, February 9, 2015

TEXARKANA, Ark. (AP) - After serving 28 years as Miller County coroner, Eddie Hawkins respects death.

Death had Hawkins on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week until Dec. 31 when he retired.

As coroner, Hawkins had the responsibility to confirm and certify the death of a person and assist law enforcement agencies to determine the cause of death and whether additional investigation needs to occur.

He was elected in 1986 and started serving as coroner in January 1987. He has pronounced the death of an estimated 8,400 people in Miller County during a career he describes as a calling. Hawkins averaged pronouncing about 300 deaths per year.

He has been called to pronounce a person dead in the darkness of the night or during the day_in all kinds of weather conditions.

Hawkins has pronounced deaths in homes from natural causes, hidden in a thicket of trees and brush after an airplane crash or on the pavement of a highway.

Before he was elected in 1986, he served as a deputy coroner starting in 1978.

“God has given me a heart for people and to have mercy,” Hawkins told the Texarkana Gazette (https://bit.ly/1yQsVFu).

“The Lord has guided me. When I was elected, I was just a guy 32 years old, and the Lord directed my path,” he said.

He will continue as the funeral home director at Texarkana Funeral Home, Arkansas. “I will have a new lease on life,” he said.

Serving as coroner required Hawkins to be ready to respond in any condition and place in Miller County to pronounce someone dead, confer with law enforcement agencies about the cause of death and, if needed, to send the body to the state crime lab for an autopsy.

While serving as coroner, he and his wife have traveled in separate cars to social events, church or the movies.

“Last week, we went to church together,” Hawkins said.

He stressed that a coroner has to show compassion and respect to families.

“I’m a real emotional person, and many times I’ve cried with the family. I just can’t help it. I know what they’re going through, and I hurt for them. It’s just the way I am,” Hawkins said.

“I try to comfort families. Some families are real emotional, and some are not. I have to be sensitive to their personal needs and show respect no matter if they’re prepared financially for a death or not,” Hawkins said.

When a tragic death occurs, Hawkins said it can be frightening going to the location in the dark and not knowing what has happened.

He has seen all kinds of causes of death, from natural or accidental to murder or suicide.

“I don’t know how people can be so cruel. Suicides are terrible. They can’t see a way out other than killing themselves. They’re not in their right mind when they do it. They’re emotionally ill. Suicides are so hard on families. Sometimes they blame themselves and believe they could have done something different,” Hawkins said.

“Gunshot wounds to the head is a terrible scene. Fire deaths are an awful way to die,” he said. “I’ve seen freak accidents you would never think would happen.”

“It’s difficult to lose a child, and I remember a 12 year-old boy who shot himself. What was so bad for a 12-year-old to kill himself? It’s hard to imagine what they go through, and then what the families have to go through,” he said.

He has always been ready to go on a call, having a full tank of gas and keeping his cellphone on his side. He also carries Vicks Salve to place in his nose to mask the smell of a body in decomposition.

“At home, I get up and shower and shave first thing, because I never know what the day might bring,” he said.

He has had a lot of sleepless nights. “The adrenaline is going, and you can’t sleep,” he said.

A family of four_a mother, father and two children_died in an airplane crash near Sugar Hill. Rescue units were unable to find the airplane for two days.

When his children were younger, he would return home and thank God they were safe, he said.

“I would come home and hug my children and squeeze them and hold them. Life is so short sometimes. God has given me the ability to cope. If you dwell on it, it will drive you nuts. There is a fine line between dwelling on it and you can’t be cold and insensitive to the families,” Hawkins said.

“I’ve been on so many calls I feel like part of their families. The best part of being a coroner is the interaction with families. I’ve met so many people I’m fond of through the years. Miller County is full of good people. I’ve seen a lot of sad stories. But that’s just the way life is,” he said.


Information from: Texarkana Gazette, https://www.texarkanagazette.com

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