Hometown: Evansville, Indiana
Education: Harrison High School graduate, attended Indiana State University Evansville (now the University of Southern Indiana), graduate of the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy
Resume: 25 years as a detective with the Vanderburgh County Sheriff’s Office; served as Vanderburgh County Chief Deputy Coroner from 2009 to 2016; took office as coroner in January 2017.
Family: Wife Krista and one son, Kristian, a senior at Signature School
The joke “Someone is dying to see you” is not a new one to Steve Lockyear. After serving as Vanderburgh County Chief Deputy Coroner for five years and now as elected coroner, it’s one he hears more often than he would like.
"We just need to get rid of that one,” he says with a chuckle. “Surely we can come up with something more creative than that.”
Humor may be the last thing you expect at a coroner’s office, but it is something Lockyear and his staff have in spades. While the 17 part-time deputy coroners, chief deputy Dave Anson, and Lockyear take their jobs seriously — striving to bring answers and comfort to those families affected by the death of a loved one — releasing the tension the job can create is important.
“We have a very special group here, because they are tasked with the most horrific job imaginable. Every day,” says Lockyear. “If you don’t have some release, the stress of the job very quickly will devour you.”
Of the 1,800 death calls made to the county coroner’s office last year, 340 became coroner’s cases. A death only becomes a case when the cause of death is not natural, says Lockyear — as in homicide, suicide, car accidents, drug overdose, etc. It is the coroner’s duty to determine cause and manner of death. The staff also informs families of the passing of their loved ones.
“It’s a weird job. There’s no school for this,” says Lockyear. “This is a learn-as-you-go, experience-based job. Experience is key.”
What prompted you to join the coroner’s office?
Well, it’s what I do. This is all I’ve known my adult life — responding to bad events. From being in the Sheriff’s Department to here. And I hate to use the word enjoy, but I feel like I can contribute and help people during the worst day of their lives. They need somebody there, or they want somebody there, who has experience and knows what’s going on.
We can’t change what’s going on, but we can try to give them comfort and some answers and guidance. That’s what we do.
How busy is the coroner’s office?
We are swamped. We are understaffed and overworked, but we keep going. It’s a 24-hours-a-day job. My wife can attest to you, the phone rings 24 hours a day.
What is something about your position the public might not associate with the coroner’s office?
I think most people don’t realize we actually respond and investigate deaths on scene. I think they think the body just miraculously shows up here on our doorstep or that we just pick it up.
We actually are assigned by the duty of the law — the coroner is a constitutional office.
And if someone dies in the hospital, we still respond. It still can be a coroner’s case. Some of those cases may seem unexciting. People think of murder and that you have five cases a year.
What is challenging about your job?
The death of a child [is challenging.] In a vast majority of those, it is totally preventable and unnecessary. Most of the time, it’s inappropriate sleep or abuse. Children are tough, and they don’t just die. That’s always the hardest for anybody.
On the flip side, what do you enjoy the most?
Being able to help people get through this. And being able to see the person responsible for a death charged, especially when they’ve made efforts to conceal what they’ve done.
But being able to help a family get through this is satisfying. Everyone here wants to help.
For more information about the Vanderburgh County Coroner’s Office, call 812-435-5746 or visit evansvillegov.org.