When Brent “Doc” Blue was running for the office of Teton County Coroner in 2014, he had a simple message for voters: “I think that the person who is coroner should have a medical background”.
His opponent in the Democratic primary was sheriff’s deputy Dave Hodges, while in the general election he came up against a Republican named Russell Nelson, a forensic anthropologist, wildlife guide and ski instructor.
In a campaign ad, Dr Blue explained in his best bedside manner the role of a coroner.
“Coroners don’t investigate crimes. That’s a police function,” he said.
Nor do coroner’s use anthropological techniques, he explained.
“That’s a TV show.”
Dr Blue was elected to a 10-year term, one of only a handful of Democrats to hold office in the deeply red state.
On Tuesday, Dr Blue is scheduled to appear at a press conference to talk about the autopsy he conducted on Gabby Petito in what is likely to be the most significant update in the case since her remains were found in Bridger-Teton National Forest on 19 September.
Originally from Louisville, Kentucky, Dr Blue has more than 45 years of experience in family medicine, and continues to treat patients at St John’s Health Family Health and Urgent Care Clinic in Jackson.
Teton County has a population of 23,300 as of 2020, with a population of five people per square mile. It covers large parts of Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks.
In that jurisdiction, Dr Blue is responsible for investigating all sudden and unattended deaths including all “accidents, violent, unexpected, and other deaths”.
“Any death in the county may be deemed a coroner’s case at the discretion of the coroner if there are circumstances which warrant such designation.”
Teton County has low crime rates and one of the highest life expectancies of any county in the United States, and so most of his work is done on hiking accidents and suicides, such as that of Robert Lowery.
Part of his role is to determine name, age and cause of death, and notify the next of kin.
According to an online profile, he works with patients to “urge healthy lifestyles to deal with medical issues instead of medication if at all possible”.
On his Facebook page, the ponytailed-doctor encourages people to get the Covid-19 vaccine, in a state where only 42 per cent of the total population are fully vaccinated.
He also recently encouraged Texas women to come to Jackson Hole for “non-judgmental health care unrestricted by oppressive old white men”.
His pro-vaccine, pro-choice message doesn’t always go down well in Wyoming.
One commenter on his Facebook page vows to get the Texas Air National Guard to force his plane to land in Texas next time he boards a flight.
Dr Blue appears nonplussed by the feedback, signing off his posts with the message: “Pet your dog”.