Tawnya Bailey to run for Grand County coroner

Tawnya Bailey is a Grand County native. In addition to being Chief Deputy Coroner, she has been a local business owner, and is involved in many community organizations.
Tawnya Bailey/Courtesy Photo

The only thing certain about death is that’s certain, meaning there is no downtime at the Grand County coroner’s office. “Our office is 24/7, 365,” said Chief Deputy Coroner Tawnya Bailey. “You always have to be at the ready, because death has no schedule.”

After 15 years as the Grand County coroner, Brenda Bock is retiring. Bailey is stepping up to run for the position in the June 28 primaries, ahead of the November elections.

Bailey has been in her current role as chief deputy coroner for 10 years. “I feel I am one of the best people to run for coroner, because I have the skills, training, and experience to do this job,” she said, adding that Bock has taught her much about the challenging, yet rewarding, duties of serving as coroner.

For the past decade, Bock and Bailey have worked side-by-side in a rural community surrounded by wilderness, where death is rarely predictable. Their main objective is to determine cause and manner of a person’s death and notify family members of their passing. “To write the final chapter in their lives,” Bailey said. She explained that their office undertakes this duty with compassion and respect.

A death, whether expected or sudden, is a tumultuous time; people in the process of grieving must navigate procedures such as choosing a mortuary and planning out the funeral service.  

“I’m there on the worst day of somebody’s life,” Bailey said.  “I’m there to give answers to the survivors. … I tell them what the next steps are and help them through it. I’m there to be their rock.”

In a close-knit community like Grand, decedents are not always strangers to the coroners; sometimes they are friends. This can make the experience an emotional one for coroners as well.

“We do cry, we’re human,” Bailey said. “We have feelings and it hurts us too. It’s our community, it’s like our extended family.”

Bailey and the team have frequently gotten thank-you notes from bereaved individuals. Working as coroner also allowed her to form new friendships that she hadn’t thought were possible.

“It’s been extremely rewarding. … You’d think that in such a grieving time, people wouldn’t even remember you,” Bailey said. “We have an amazing team at the office. Everyone’s so full of care and compassion. We treat people how we’d want our family to be treated. We take it really personally.”

A coroner’s duty also takes bravery to carry out, especially in the wild parts of Grand County, which call outdoors enthusiasts to take sometimes life-threatening risks.

“In the Denver-metro area, those coroners basically drive up to a building, go into a house or business, and (find the) decedent,” Bailey said. “For Grand County coroners, you have to be at the ready for anything … go wherever the person has died.”

Bailey and other coroners have snowmobiled to avalanches, ridden ATVs or horses, rafted down rivers, and hiked miles into the backcountry.

“When people are doing recreation somewhere unsafe, that puts us in unsafe places too,” Bailey said. “Those things are unique to Grand County because of our severe weather and snow. We have a lot of different elements to deal with constantly.”

Sometimes, as in the case of avalanches, the area is too dangerous for the coroners to make it. This is when Grand County Search and Rescue steps up.

“Search and Rescue is absolutely essential and helps us tremendously through those situations,” Bailey said.

Coroners are also on the scene of automobile, train, bus and plane accidents; suicides; homicides; or any sudden, unexpected death. If needed, they perform autopsies to determine what happened. Bailey emphasized that coroners do not do this work alone.

“We work very closely with our law enforcement offices. We do our own investigation side-by-side with their investigation to come up with a conclusion of what took place,” Bailey said. “We are very proud of the entities that we work with. We couldn’t do it without their help.”

A number of organizations convene when a death occurs, depending on how and where it happened. Bailey stated that the coroner’s office is frequently assisted by EMS, Animal Control, the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

Although the job comes with extremes and difficulties, Bailey finds the multifaceted aspect of being a coroner very rewarding.

“It’s an amazing job. We get to do investigations; we get to do the medical side of it,” she said. “And we get to work with families to help guide them through what the following steps are.”

Bailey is able to help survivors process exactly what happened to cause their loved one’s passing.

“We’re able to go through the autopsies and give them that answer that they’re desperately seeking for their closure,” she said.

Bailey has found her calling helping those around her in their darkest moments.

“I want to run for coroner because I feel like I’m a part of this community, (they are) my family and my friends. I feel like this is a way for me to give back,” she said.

Bailey’s career path didn’t lead straight to being deputy coroner.

“If you’d told me when I was 18, I would be working for the coroner business, I would have never believed it, because that wasn’t my forte,” Bailey said.

Many locals know Bailey from her time working at her parent’s business, Big A Auto Parts. Later, she started her own nail tech business in Granby. When she was younger, she avoided funerals. But when she experienced a badly conducted one, she decided to apply to work at a local mortuary so she could provide professional funeral services to fellow Grand County residents. She served as funeral director, which opened the door to a new path. When a position opened for chief deputy coroner, she applied.

“I’m the right person to do this; my heart is in this job,” Bailey emphasized. She’s also a wedding officiant, an EMT, a member of the Red Cross, and one of the three newest firefighters for the Kremmling Fire Protection District.  

Although the coroner position will be on the ballot during this election cycle, Bailey stressed that it is completely non-partisan.

“It’s about the people, not the political party you choose to affiliate with,” she said. “It’s to do with taking care of the survivors, making sure the decedent has a voice, and we are their voice.”

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