SPECIAL REPORT: Coroner's Inquest on Muscogee County Coroner Buddy Bryan

VIDEO: SPECIAL REPORT: Coroner's Inquest on Muscogee County Coroner Buddy Bryan
Published: Aug. 9, 2018 at 1:26 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 9, 2018 at 4:08 PM EDT
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COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - Imagine spending your day around the deceased - that's the job of the Muscogee County Coroner.

We set out to investigate the man behind the title.

In our special report, Coroner's Inquest, News Leader 9's Cheryl Renee spent some time with Buddy Bryan.

He calls it the business of death.

"I basically speak for the deceased in a lot of cases especially the suicide and homicide cases,'" says Muscogee County Coroner Buddy Bryan

The coroner's office does about 860 death investigations a year, that includes homicides, suicides, accidental death, natural and undetermined.

And the 68-year-old says it's nothing like what you see on T.V

"They think we can get DNA results back within an hour, toxicology, blood tests back in an hour, that's just not the case. It's 4-6 months before we can get information back from the GBI," he said.

The GBI in Decatur handles autopsies for all counties including Muscogee since budget cuts scaled back the local facility. The Muscogee County morgue sits next door and houses the remains for some smaller counties and funeral homes.
The coroner's office is manned 24/7 between himself, Chief Deputy Coroner Freeman Worley who has been on the job since 1999 and Deputy Coroner Charles Newton since 2009. They rotate working 24-hour shifts, then off for 48 hours. And it's non-stop from when they get the call. Bryan describes what happens.

"It's dispatch. They tell us we have a signal 16 which means a death and we always ask what are the circumstances," Bryan said. This particular one was a gunshot. We meet EMS. We get with the lead detective and we pronounce the time of death. Then we're able to thoroughly inspect the body, look for how many times the individual was shot, where they were shot. We document that. We call our driver out and we make a removal to the morgue."

Once at the morgue, the coroner writes down all the important information on the victim like name, sex, race, and age into a log book. The body stays there until it heads for an autopsy or goes to a funeral home - a place Bryan knows all too well.

"I started working in the funeral business when I was 14-years-old and that's all I've ever really known is the death industry," says Bryan.

Right out of Columbus High School in 1968, Bryan went to mortuary college in Atlanta and was in the funeral business for about three decades until the day he turned 50.

"I resigned from the funeral business and went into medical sales. I did that for about 10 years."

Then in 2012, he got a call to run for coroner against incumbent Bill Thrower who ended up being disqualified. Bryan won the election and took over the office on Jan.1, 2013.

Since then, his team has worked nearly 4,400 cases.

"I don't dream about death. I don't take death home with me," says Bryan

But there is one murder case he still thinks about from time to time. On Jan. 4, 2016,  the lifeless bodies of 54-year-old Gloria Short, her 17-year-old son Caleb and 11-year-old granddaughter Gianna Lindsey were found in their Bentley Dr. home in Upatoi.

"I've seen a lot of deaths but that was pretty brutal. I think about the family."

Bryan says through all the emotions each case brings to the job, he's been blessed to not let it interfere with his private life.

He's been married to his wife Susan for 34 years. They have five children, four grandchildren, and one due in December.

Speaking about his wife he says "she puts up with me getting up at 2 and 3 o'clock in the morning. But I counter that- I make her breakfast every morning and I cook every night. I do all the ironing."

Bryan says he also enjoys fishing with his family and collecting these...

"So I have a variety of skulls. Some people collect crystal. I just happened to be a skull guy."

Among the skulls and the homemade skeleton in the corner are his many accolades on the wall, including coroner of the year in 2013.

In 2016, Bryan ran unopposed for a second four-year-term and says he has no plans of slowing down.

"I'm right where I need to be in life. I've come full circle with my experience and knowledge. I love what I'm doing."

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