The average south Mississippi resident doesn't want to cross paths with the county coroner. It isn't that coroners aren't nice people. In fact, coroners like Harrison County's Gary Hargrove are quite chatty. Hargrove has an active, albeit dark, sense of humor.
Rather, as the county coroner, if you have reason to meet Hargrove, death is sure to be lurking nearby.
Hargrove has served as Harrison County's coroner since 1996. In that time, he has face fatalities of every kind. He sees to grisly murder victims, tragic storm victims and more. In all that time, the coroner says he has adapted death.
However, Hargrove says he is still affected each time he must inform a family of loss, especially in the case of drunk driving.
Tuesday morning saw an especially harrowing case.
"It rates right up there with some of the worst that I've dealt with and that's including plane crashes and everything," said Hargrove.
That morning, Mobile resident Brian Little stranded his car on the railroad tracks near 29th Avenue, where no road lies and no cars are allowed.
"This gentleman drove through a barricade of signs. How he managed to do that, who knows," said Hargrove.
Authorities say his two passengers unsuccessfully tried to move the car, and then went for help. Little stayed behind in the car. Moments later he was struck by a train and killed.
In the light of day, one factor became clear to investigators.
"Alcohol was heavily involved in this accident. The belief is that he may have been asleep in the car waiting on the friends to come back when the accident occurred, and may never have even seen the train," explained Hargrove.
Toxicology reports reveal that Little's blood alcohol level was far beyond the legal limit. Hargrove says the tragedy of the situation is that the effects of drunk driving go far beyond the individual.
"It affects his friends who were with him. it affects the family. It affects the emergency responders who go to a scene like that. It affects me to a point," said Hargrove. "I'm the one that has to call the family. I'm the one that has to tell the family that they've lost their life, and guide them through that to the next point."
Hargrove says it's not fair for families to face such tragedies when they are preventable.
According to Hargrove, more than 80 percent of fatalities each year can be linked to drugs and/or alcohol.
For that reason, he and other law enforcement are urging everyone not to drink and drive. The coroner even volunteered as a designated driver if no one else is available.
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