Woodford ex-coroner appeals suspension of funeral license

gkocher1@herald-leader.comApril 25, 2013 

Former Woodford County coroner Steve Ward is appealing a final order from the Kentucky Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors that found his conduct to be "unprofessional" after he pleaded guilty and served time last year for misdemeanor sexual misconduct.

The board issued a final order that included a $50,000 fine against Ward. The board also suspended his funeral director/embalmer's license for five years from the Feb. 28 effective date of the order. However, the suspension of Ward's license was probated for the last three years as long as he "obeys all laws and regulations governing embalmers and funeral directors in the Commonwealth," the order says. The board released the final order Thursday after the Lexington Herald-Leader filed an open-records request.

During the time of suspension and probation, the order says, Ward is not to supervise an apprentice. If the probation is violated, the suspension for the remainder of the five years would go into effect or the board may conduct a hearing and issue an order on the new violation.

The order came after a two-day hearing in Lexington that ended Feb. 5. Ward is appealing the order in Franklin Circuit Court, said Kathleen Kearney Schell, the attorney for the board.

Under state law, the board, appointed by the governor, has authority to take action against a funeral director "committing any act which constitutes unprofessional, fraudulent, misleading, corrupt, deceptive or dishonest conduct."

Blackburn and Ward Funeral Home, the Versailles funeral home owned by Ward, remains open and has handled arrangements for at least a dozen funerals since the order was signed, according to obituaries listed on the home's website.

"I don't have any comment other than to tell you I'm very much in business and still very much licensed," Ward told a Herald-Leader reporter Thursday.

Ward was granted shock probation in September after serving nearly four months of a yearlong sentence for sexual misconduct.

He pleaded guilty in May 2012 to engaging in "deviant sexual intercourse with a 14-year-old boy." Five other counts of third-degree sodomy were dismissed.

Despite the guilty plea, Ward "maintains his innocence" and "has asserted that he entered his guilty plea to avoid more serious charges," according to records filed in Franklin Circuit Court.

"Such conduct is unprofessional and lowers the esteem of the embalming and funeral directing professions," the board said in its order. "Licensees are community leaders who need to look out for all young people. They go into the public schools and talk about their professions. They deal with individuals at stressful and vulnerable times. In some communities, they are more highly regarded than ministers of the Gospel."

The final order was signed by Danny Percell, chairman of the Kentucky Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors.

Ward was Woodford County coroner for 20 years but lost a bid for re-election in 2010 to Ronald Eugene Owens.

Greg Kocher: (859) 231-3305. Twitter: @HLpublicsafety.

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