If the General Assembly wanted to do something great during Sunshine Week, which is doubtful, it could start by making it mandatory that a cause of death and manner of death report be made to the news media on every death investigated by authorities.
In a timely fashion, authorities would be required to disclose to the media and public the cause and manner of death which involves law enforcement. Person dies at home and the cause is natural (except people defined as public figures), no report is mandated. Person is found dead in a city park, where people watched, follow-up report is mandatory, in a timely fashion.
They could take it up right after debate on Spartanburg Senator Josh Kimbrell’s bill to restrict drag performances in South Carolina, the latest Republican bandwagon.
Drag restrictions are a solution in search of a problem. Reassuring the public that no one dies in secret is a viable public requirement. In my mind, these are the people who have died in secret in the past several months in Laurens County:
DEATHS that have never been fully explained:
Man found shot to death at a Clinton motel - February, 2023
Person’s body found in a Clinton park — February, 2023
Trevor D. Anderson, Gray Court, shot to death - January, 2023
Gary F. Kinner, no town listed, death in custody - January, 2023
Travis Mize, Clinton, BOLO issue and found deceased - January, 2023
Terri Ann Chermak, body found in Laurens County - September, 2022
Daniel Robert Strange, Clinton, shot to death by deputies - July, 2022
Tyrin Pulley, Laurens, shot to death - July 2022
Kalah Shannon Gary, Laurens-Clinton, shot to death by deputies - June, 2022
Jarvis Johnmichael Evans, death in custody - July, 2021 - subject of a civil lawsuit (and video).
My proposed legislation would give the Coroner a naming exception. When the cause of death is drug overdose or the manner of death is suicide, the name of the deceased can be redacted.
The argument against disclosure is that, “We don’t want to hurt the family any more than this does already.” The redaction takes care of that, but a growing number of families want to talk about suicide and drug overdoses. That certainly is their right and, I think, it is a healthy discussion.
If we want to talk about suicide, let’s talk about the fact that Laurens County gives no money to the most active suicide prevention agency in this area, the Beckman Center for Mental Health Services.
If we want to talk about drug addiction and overdose, we can have that serious conversation - about availability of services, money and education. I don’t advocate a Scared Straight kind of approach, but I believe our high school 9th graders are mature enough to handle the word that “there are very dangerous drugs out there and you take your life into your own hands if you ingest them.” And, there are alternatives for counseling if you think your life is so messed up you need to “escape”.
Hiding the fact that people are killing themselve, literally, and by taking what they think are harmless recreational drugs does no one any good. It’s time to bring these deaths out of the darkness - out of the stigma - into the light.
Vic MacDonald is Editor of The Clinton Chronicle. In June, 2025, Vic will observe his 50th year in community journalism. Reach him at 864-833-1900.
A view from Spartanburg here.
Vague Exemptions here.