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New chief coroner owns auto yard

Alix McNaught
Northern News Services
Published Friday, April 04, 2008

YELLOWKNIFE - It was in 1989 when the NWT's chief coroner at the time came by Garth Eggenberger's auto yard that he first thought about becoming a coroner.

The chief coroner was looking for information regarding a motor-vehicle collision, and Eggenberger expressed an interest in becoming a coroner himself.

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Newly-appointed Chief Coroner Garth Eggenberger stands outside the Coroner's Office on 49th Street April 2. -Alix McNaught/NNSL photo

The chief coroner suggested he apply with the coroner's office.

"So they trained me, and I've been doing it ever since," said Egenberger.

Eggenberger was appointed chief coroner for the Northwest Territories this week. He replaces Percy Kinney, who held the position for nearly 10 years.

Eggenberger, who started in his new position April 1 came in to work to find the entire office in the chaos of long-awaited construction.

"My particular contract is for a year," he said Wednesday, adding he wanted to make sure he was able to handle the job before signing on for any longer. He and the GNWT will reassess his contract at the year's end.

"I've been doing it for almost 19 years, so it's nothing new for me," said Eggenberger.

There are approximately 40 coroners across the Northwest Territories. Although coroners generally focus upon cases from their own communities, they are able to operate throughout the territory, which is particularly important when conflicts of interest arise.

"Most coroners are volunteer coroners in communities. They make sure death doesn't go unnoticed," said Eggenberger.

Although they are appointed by the Department of Justice, coroners in the NWT are not part of the government.

"We do get paid by them, but we're members of the public," Eggenberger said.

"I actually run a towing service here in Yellowknife," he said, referring to his company Age Automotive.

According to Eggenberger, the coroner's office conducts training once a year.

"It gets you so you're familiar with a dead body, a post-mortem, a murder scene," he said. "It helps you become detached a little bit so you can concentrate and do your job."

He added that staff at the coroner's office do an incredible job assisting grieving families and explaining to them what happened to their loved ones.

Eggernberger took inquest training, of his own initiative, in Ontario in 1995.

"It just put me one step up," he said. "Before that it was just the chief coroner doing it. The training was really helpful."

Since the completion of his training, Eggenberger has presided over numerous coroner's inquests in the Northwest Territories.

Eggenberger still works at Age Automotive and said all the coroners in the Northwest Territories have other jobs. He is hopeful he won't have to make too many changes to his day job.

"One of the reasons I went for a one-year contract, I just wanted to look and see how much I'll have to commit," he said. "I really have set no goals, mainly because I've been in the service for 19 years, so it's more of a continuation."

"One of the goals is to have the coroners recognized more," he added. "It seems the chief coroner is always out front, but most of the work is done by the coroners."

Eggenberger backed up comments made by his deputy Cathy Menard earlier this week, saying that an inquest into the 2005 deaths of firefighters Cyril Fyfe and Kevin Olson is not warranted.

"Really what we have to look at is if the issues have been addressed," he said. "At this specific time, no, an inquest is not warranted, because WCB has laid charges, gone to court, the city's looked into it in a public way."

He added that 95 per cent of the recommendations put forward have already been implemented.

Former Chief Coroner Percy Kinney had mentioned holding a coroner's inquest into the case of the two boys who drowned last year at Sacred Fire Healing Camp on Great Slave Lake.

"I haven't looked at any of the files yet," said Eggenberger, having only started on Tuesday amid massive office renovations.

"As soon as we're back in the office, it's one of the cases we'll be looking at," he said.