Contested coroner race? Dead serious

Kurtzman says he'll try to get his old job back

Rob Kurtzman has filed papers indicating he’s running for the Mesa County Coroner office in 2014.

Pathologist Dean Havlik is the current Mesa County coroner.

Former Mesa County coroner Dr. Robert Kurtzman wants his old job back, setting up a possible rare contested race for county coroner pitting former colleagues against each other.

Kurtzman, a 57-year-old longtime local forensic pathologist, said Wednesday he’s been encouraged by numerous community members to seek the elected office once again. In 2014, that would match him against incumbent Mesa County Coroner Dr. Dean Havlik, a Democrat.

Kurtzman, who has worked in Mesa County since 1992, would run as a Republican.

Kurtzman and Havlik were colleagues with The Pathology Group, which was founded by Kurtzman in 1998 before Kurtzman sold his interest to Havlik in 2007. The company completes autopsies for Mesa County, among other jurisdictions.

“I decided if I was going to run, this is probably the last time for me to seriously consider it,” said Kurtzman, who served as Mesa County’s elected coroner from 1998 to 2006, leaving office because of term limits. “I decided I’ll see how things go.” 
Kurtzman on Nov. 25 filed a candidate affidavit with the Colorado Secretary of State, while registering an election committee, according to state records. Mesa County hasn’t seen a contested election for the office of coroner in at least 23 years, possibly longer, according to county elections records.

Havlik said he was leaning toward a run for a third term, but hasn’t made a final decision.

“I’m pretty sure I will (seek re-election),” Havlik said. “The only reason I wouldn’t is because I’d have to run against (Kurtzman), which is not a good enough reason.”

Havlik, 44, wasn’t happy about the prospect of a contested election, while saying, “my relationship with (Kurtzman) has always been good.”

“This is not ideal for anyone involved, nor is it good for Mesa County,” Havlik said. “There are a lot of things that go on with being coroner. He’s (Kurtzman) good at the autopsy part. I’ll leave it at that for now.”

“I’m frustrated,” Havlik added. “It’s kind of ridiculous.”

Stepping down as coroner in 2006, Kurtzman went to work for Havlik and The Pathology Group, serving as deputy coroner for a period of time. Kurtzman said he’d perform approximately “two-thirds” of autopsies during that time.

Kurtzman left the The Pathology Group this past January while forming his own company, Rocky Mountain Forensic Services, which he runs from home while also using the facilities of Community Hospital. The men and their two companies still have a contractual relationship for coverage of local autopsy work.

The next Mesa County coroner will be busy with the planned expansion of the coroner’s morgue, now occupying roughly 800-square feet inside Community Hospital. Current designs call for roughly doubling that space, but plans were in limbo last month when Community Hospital withdrew a $76 million bond offer, delaying construction of a new hospital scheduled to open in May 2015.

Kurtzman called the existing morgue “dilapidated.”

“It’s going to happen, just a matter of when,” Havlik said of the new digs.

Among Kurtzman’s more recent high-profile autopsies, the forensic pathologist ruled the November 2012 deaths of toddlers William and Tyler Jensen were accidents, and not homicide. The boys overheated after being left alone in a vehicle by their mother, Heather Jensen, as she had sex with a man nearby, authorities have said. While concluding the deaths were accidental, Kurtzman said the mother’s actions constituted “neglect” and were “reckless.” The findings were the subject of a dispute between prosecutors and defense that went to the Colorado Supreme Court.

Kurtzman said he would have ruled the deaths homicide, “had this happened in the summertime.”
“No reasonable individual would ever anticipate that by leaving your kids in a car, at night, on a cold winter day, that they would pass away because the car got too hot,” he said.


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