Dr. Eskelson set standard as Rio Blanco Co. coroner

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For the nearly 30 years Dr. David Eskelson practiced medicine in Meeker, he was a constant witness to the circle of life, from the moment a child was born, to the time when a person had taken his or her final breath.
As a family practice doctor in Meeker for nearly three decades, he brought thousands of babies into the world. During much of that time, he served the community in another important capacity. He was county coroner, where his job was to determine the cause of death.
He took both roles equally seriously.
“It’s a protective thing for society, and I think it’s a great service to a community,” Eskelson said of the role of a coroner. “His primary responsibility is to make sure there are no unwarranted deaths in the county … and to decide whether it’s an accident, homicide, suicide or natural causes.
“In fact, I probably had two cases over the years that I feel were probably homicides, but there was no proof, not even to file charges,” Eskelson said. “Those were the only two I had in 45 years.”
In his role as coroner, Eskelson routinely worked with law enforcement and the court system. Sometimes he was called to testify in a trial.
“Mostly just for clarity,” he said. “Just for the legal reasons of what did I know and how I had come to the conclusions I had. That was the most common use of testimony.”
As a matter of course, Eskelson would use a pathologist to confirm his conclusion as to the cause of death.
“You had to make a definite decision in every case,” he said. “All of your work as a coroner can be reviewed, which is why I used the pathologist. I used a pathologist quite frequently, to make sure the cause of death was correct. It was my responsibility to be accurate as to the cause of death.”
Eskelson, now 82, remained county corner after retiring from medical practice in March 1991, according to hospital records.
“Because I wanted to stay in the service of the county,” said Eskelson, who came to Meeker in 1964, according to hospital records, and started working with Dr. Earl Ryan.
He stepped down as coroner in January 2007, when his term was over.
“I had had another birthday,” he said. “I felt like it was time.”
Ran Cochran, who up until recently owned and operated Cochran Memorial Chapels — he sold the business last month — replaced Eskelson as coroner. He had served as deputy coroner under Eskelson.
“I had an assistant deputy coroner,” Eskelson said. “Usually, I used the funeral director. They were happy to get the extra work. If there was an accident out in the county, I would have the pickup done by the funeral director.”
Eskelson found being county coroner was both rewarding and enjoyable.
“It was just fun doing the work,” he said. “It was was very interesting. It’s something most physicians don’t get an opportunity to do. It used to be, I was one of the few in the state who was an M.D. and would do the coroner’s work. Now, there are more than there used to be. Previously, the local mortician was the coroner.”
Being a coroner in a small town, more often than not, Eskelson would know the person who had died.
“I learned to stay pretty objective about things; it didn’t matter whether it was a friend,” he said.
Initially, Eskelson said the coroner’s job “would pay like $10 per case, or something like that, but I did it for years for nothing. They (the county) did cover me with health insurance, so it wasn’t like I did it for free. But the first time I got paid a salary was the last year or two, when the state mandated counties had to pay coroners a minimum of $25,000 as an elected official, and that was a gift as far as I was concerned.”
The position currently pays $33,100.
“I think that’s why we’re getting some people interested in working at it,” Eskelson said.
During all his years as coroner, Eskelson recalled there may have been one time he was challenged in an election primary, “But otherwise, no,” he said.
This year, there are four candidates — Rob Baughman, Sherri Halandras, Dr. Albert Krueger and Nancy Richardson — competing for the job of county coroner. All four are Republicans.
“Anybody can be the coroner,” Eskelson said. “Anymore, though, if they get elected, they have to become qualified to become a coroner, which is a good thing. They will, by state requirements, have to get trained, so they work up to a certain state standard.”
Profiles of all four candidates appear in this week’s Herald Times. But whichever candidate ends up being elected, chances are, they won’t serve in the position for as long as Eskelson did.
“No, I doubt it,” he said. “I think I probably had a record that I was the longest elected public official in the state of Colorado. People tried to check about that … and they said I held the record. I didn’t know if that was a record or not.”
Record or no record, it was an impressive accomplishment.
“He’s a legend,” said Dr. Krueger. “Just the story about him becoming county coroner nearly 50 years ago is amazing.”
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Saturday’s Republican County Assembly at Richards Hall (next to St. James Episcopal Church) will be another step in the process of determining which candidates end up on the ballot and in what order.
“The delegates to the assembly will nominate candidates for the offices to be filled, followed by the candidates for office giving a short speech. Then, the 50 delegates elected from the precinct caucuses will vote on each office to be filled at the next general election. Every candidate receiving 30 percent or more of the votes will be certified by the assembly as a candidate for the primary election,” said County Clerk Nancy Amick. “If two candidates receive over 30 percent, the one receiving the highest number of votes will appear top line on the ballot for that office. If no candidates receive 30 percent, a second ballot is taken and, if no one receives 30 percent again, the top two candidates are certified as candidates for that office. In case of a tie, the order is determined by lot.
“It is possible to have three, and I have seen three candidates for one office on the primary ballot, but that is rare,” Amick added.
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The Rio Blanco County Democratic Party County Assembly will be at 3:30 p.m. Sunday in the Community Room at Mountain Valley Bank, 400 Main St. in Meeker.
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Since no election was required for the town board in Meeker — because none of the races was contested — all of the candidates will fill the open positions. Danny Conrado will be the newcomer to the board. He succeeds Chuck Mills, who decided not to seek re-election. Incumbent board members Rod Gerloff and Regas Halandras will continue in those roles as will Mayor Mandi Etheridge.
“The mayor, Danny and the other two board members re-elected will be sworn in Monday, April 12 at the beginning of the (board) meeting,” said Town Administrator Sharon Day.
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Investigation of a fight Feb. 20 on Mimi Circle in Meeker has been concluded.
“The alleged victims declined to cooperate in a prosecution and Officer (Mike) Washburn spoke with the deputy DA’s office about it and they also declined prosecution, so the case has been closed pending any other information,” Police Chief Bob Hervey said.
• • • • •
Phil Bonds knows Rangely and he also knows about a four-day school week.
Bonds, a former middle school teacher and administrator in Rangely for 19 years, met with school board members last week to talk about his experience with a four-day school week at West Grand High School in Kremmling, where he is the principal.
“They invited me to visit with them about the implementation, which we did at West Grand five years ago,” Bonds said. “Basically, it’s a modified type of four day … we have component within our program called Friday School, where we bring in those kids who have Ds and Fs and try to catch up on work. The other thing we’ve incorporated on Fridays are days where we have our professional development. … We’ve been pleased with the professional development aspects and we’ve been pleased with improvement that we’ve had with getting kids in and making sure they’re getting things done. Another thing we do is run a Friday enrichment program … what we do on those days is we provide field-trip opportunities … things that are outside (the classroom) that we can offer during regular instructional time, cultural kinds of things.”
Bonds has been pleased with the academic achievement of students during the time West Grand has had a four-day school schedule, though the two are not necessarily connected.
“My staff has been engaged in some major initiatives that have really resulted in major improvements, particularly the last two years,” Bonds said. “West Grand has placed in the top 10 percent of Colorado high schools in reading and writing and the top 3 percent in science. And last year we had the highest-performing freshman class in Colorado. That’s not bad for a little mountain community. So, we’ve had some pretty major accomplishments. None of that Friday stuff has had a significant impact there … other than the collaborative staff projects and figuring out what we need to do to get kids to perform better.”
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Bonds has good memories of his time in Rangely.
“I arrived there in 1984,” he said. “I had a pretty good run. I felt very good about our experience in the community.”
In a Q&A that appears on the West Grand School District’s Web site, Bonds answers questions about his background, including his nearly 20 years in Rangely, which is where he met his wife.
“Rangely had some really good people,” Bonds said. “I had some great mentors there when I began working in school administration.”
Bonds also did some for for the National Park Service when he lived in Rangely.
“I was employed as a seasonal park manager for 12 years at Dinosaur National Monument,” he said.
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Clem Clark is ready to come home.
“Clem is holding his own, but has a long way to go before he can get a lung transplant,” his mother, Janet Clark, said. “We are in the process of getting him moved to a hospital on the Western Slope, hopefully Pioneers, so he can be closer to friends and family all the time. He wants to come home.
“As of (last Friday), Clem is doing a little better and is off the ventilator for a few hours each day. He is also back to eating and drinking, too. Not sure M&Ms and Dr. Pepper are what the doctor ordered, but it is what he wanted,” Janet Clark said. “I think the thought of coming back to Meeker is motivating him to get well.”
Clem has been in a hospital in Denver since Jan. 4, due to complications from cystic fibrosis.
“He ended up back in ICU for about four days about a week ago, so he is back on the ventilator again but slowly trying again to get off it,” Janet Clark said. “Hopefully by this week, we will know when Clem can come back to the Western Slope. We just have to convince the doctors we have roads over here and even an airport in Meeker and the hospitals over here can take care of him.”
Janet and Roger Clark have been taking turns staying at the hospital with Clem.
“We want to thank everyone for the prayers and support during these last three months,” Janet Clark said. “It has been and still is a roller-coaster ride with Clem, but the support and prayers are helping us to cope with the ups and downs.”
Clem celebrated his 25th birthday on March 9.
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Local funny man Todd Young has delayed his trip to perform at a comedy club in New York.
“I was supposed to leave (April 5) for a week long workshop in NYC with the performance on April 10; however, (the bank) is having an OCC (Office of the Comptroller of the Currency) exam on April 12 and I did not want to be away the week prior. Having said that, I will postpone until some time later this year,” said Young, who is manager of the First National Bank of the Rockies branch in Meeker.
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Elected officials from both towns and the three county commissioners got together last week to discuss items of mutual interest, something they do two or three times a year. One of the items on the agenda was medical marijuana.
For now, though, the issue is on hold, until the state decides what it is going to do about medical marijuana dispensaries.
“Both towns and the county have adopted moratoriums on medical marijuana dispensaries, pending receipt of the tablets of stone from the Legislature,” said County Attorney Kent Borchard.
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Yuri Chicovsky, an adjunct professor of creative writing and photography at Colorado Northwestern Community College, will have examples of his work on display in Meeker.
‘The images in my show, ‘Wool,’ represent the sheep industry in Northwest Colorado,” Chicovsky said. “I made the pictures during research for my upcoming documentary film, which focuses on that lifestyle. The film follows three lambs from birth on the lush spring lambing grounds, up the summer slopes, and to the table, and gets acquainted with their shepherds and ranchers along the way.
“Both the film and the photos aim to document the ever-changing culture of sheep people, and to fight for its preservation,” Chicovsky said.
The photography show opens Friday from 4-8 p.m. at Wendll’s Wondrous Things and runs for six weeks.
• • • • •
Meeker’s farmers’ market is losing two of its volunteers — Jason and Jennifer Taylor, who will be moving to Denver.
“I have accepted a position at the BLM National Operations Center (NOC) in Denver (Lakewood, really), which starts May 9,” Jason said. “The position is a national-level landscape ecologist and program lead … my initial duties will include eco-regional assessment project management, along with landscape/habitat-project consultation within and outside of the BLM. At some level, I also expect to be involved with the Department of Interior’s Landscape Conservation Cooperatives and National Climate Science Centers.”
The Taylors were active in the organizing of the farmers’ market, which started up last summer.
“The bad news for those of us who have grown accustomed to Jason and Jennifer Taylor … they are going to be moving in May,” said Katie Day, who is also involved in the farmers’ market. “We have an excellent group of people who are willing to volunteer a couple of weekends out of their summer to help run the market, but we are now searching for people who are interested in helping with market’s Web site and researching rules and regs for us.”
If interested, Day can be contacted at kddaydreams@gmail.com.
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With the temperatures warming up, it means Kenney Reservoir is thawing out.
“We generally look at mid-April for the lake to be open, so we are on schedule, if this winter weather leaves,” said Dan Eddy, who is manager of the Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District, which oversees the reservoir. “The lake thaws from north to south, as a rule. The river water coming in is generally a little warmer. The volume of runoff also has an impact on the rate of thaw.”
Today, the lake is scheduled to be stocked with fish.
“We normally get about 15,000 trout — depending on the weight of the fish,” Eddy said.
• • • • •
I was all set to leave my house and walk up to the Meeker football field Sunday morning for the Easter sunrise service, but as soon as I opened the door, I was surprised to see it was snowing and blowing outside like all get-out.
Earlier that morning, when I let my cat and dog outside, around 5:45, the weather was as calm as could be.
But about an hour later, when I was ready to leave my house, I could hardly see across the street, because of the sideways-blowing snow.
I thought for sure, the sunrise service would be canceled, just like last year, when it was snowing on Easter morning.
But, as they say, the show went on. That in itself was a small Easter miracle.

Jeff Burkhead is editor of the Herald Times. You may e-mail him at jeff@theheraldtimes.com.