Kelly Lear-Kaul, Arapahoe County's new coroner, isn't facing any competition this election cycle, but she certainly isn't afraid of it.
“I've always been an athlete,” she said. “It's been a big part of my life.”
Lear-Kaul, 41, won her age group in the 2007 Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii, but she says the political arena is a whole different world.
“I still don't see myself as a politician,” said Lear-Kaul, a Republican who is running unopposed for the office. “It's part of the problem with the coroner system. It's built in that you have to be a politician, but it's really about the medicine. In our office, the coroner would be just an extra paycheck.”
Lear-Kaul took over the coroner's office on May 31, following the retirement of Michael Dobersen. He asked the Arapahoe County Board of Commissioners to appoint his second in command to serve out the remainder of his term, and Sheriff Dave Walcher also endorsed her.
“She is well respected in the coroner's office, in Arapahoe County and within the forensic pathology community, and we are confident in her ability to lead the men and women of the coroner's office,” said Commissioner Nancy Doty.
Like Dobersen, Lear-Kaul is a licensed forensic pathologist, which is a rarity among coroners. She earned her undergraduate degree in biology, biochemistry and molecular biology from Cornell College and her doctorate from the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center School of Medicine.
She will personally perform many of the hundreds of autopsies that go through the office each year. Last year, the county investigated 2,664 deaths and did 450 autopsies. On June 20 alone, she had performed eight before 2 p.m.
“It's been hectic,” she said.
Fortunately, she didn't have to spend much time getting used to her new job. She's been with the office full time since 2004, and interned there before that. A Colorado Springs native who now lives in Columbine Valley, she said working in Arapahoe County was her dream job.
She's been there through some of the county's toughest cases, including the Aurora theater mass shooting and the Arapahoe High School tragedy.
“These are cases that touch us as an office and as a community,” she said. “… We see suicides and homicides all the time, but there are some that are emotionally challenging, although not medically challenging.”
Child-death cases are always difficult, but she said they can also be the most interesting and rewarding. If the cause was an undiagnosed congenital condition, for example, the information she can provide might save another family member.
“Those are the cases I really feel we give something back,” she said.
She doesn't plan on making any major changes in the office, saying things have been running smoothly. It was nationally accredited for the first time last year, becoming one of just four counties in the state and 77 in the nation.
Lear-Kaul could be there awhile, since Arapahoe County doesn't impose term limits on the coroner as long as the person is forensic pathologist. Dobersen served five terms, the first four as a Republican and the last as a Democrat.
“My whole platform is that it doesn't matter what party I am,” said Lear-Kaul. “I don't do a Republican autopsy or a Democrat autopsy. Obviously our issues are just making sure we're serving our citizens and continuing our level of service. We know that we're dealing with our citizens on the worst day of their life, when somebody has just died unexpectedly. We don't want to use other people's tragedy in our campaigns. We want people to know that what we care about is getting them their answers and taking care of the decedent.”