Tilton man seeks Dem nod for Vermilion coroner

Tilton man seeks Dem nod for Vermilion coroner

DANVILLE — A Tilton man said his 34-year-old felony conviction for arson hasn't stopped him from having a successful career as an emergency medical technician and paramedic, and he doesn't think it should stop him from serving as Vermilion County's next coroner.

William "Butch" Fields announced his plans to seek the Democratic nomination for coroner to a group of about 25 people at the Vermilion County Democratic Party's headquarters in Danville early Friday morning.

"I have never hid from it, and I've always walked down the road with my head up," Fields said of his 1981 convictions for arson and solicitation to commit arson that stemmed from a Nov. 28, 1980 fire in Tilton.

The fire destroyed the former Jordan's PX package liquor store, at 100 E. Fifth St. At the time of the fire, it was used to store old commercial insecticides and cleaning agents.

More than 40 volunteer firefighters were treated at a local hospital for respiratory problems, and three were hospitalized for a few days. In addition, about 100 residents had to evacuate their home for several hours to avoid any dangers posed by fumes.

Fields, who was lieutenant on the volunteer Tilton Fire Department and was the fire chief's son at the time of the blaze, pleaded guilty to two charges and was sentenced to probation and periodic imprisonment, meaning he could be released only for work. He served four years of probation, and was on work release for 2 1/2 months.

"I was a teenager when it happened," Fields continued, adding two others — a 16-year-old cadet and another Tilton firefighter — were also involved. "I was used to make an example of ... I'm hoping that what I have done with my life since then will show people I'm not a bad person and that I have done something productive with my life, and I chose to help people."

There's nothing in the Illinois or county election codes that prohibits a person convicted of a felony from running for a county public office, according to state and local election officials.

Fields is the third person to announce his candidacy for the coroner's office, which has been held by Danville Republican Peggy Johnson since February 1999.

In July, Danville police Commander Jane McFadden, of Westville, announced her plans to seek the Republican nod. Then in August, Tilton Police Chief Steve Cornett said he will run as a Democrat.

Johnson announced earlier this month she will retire when her current term ends in November.

Fields, 54, is a Tilton native and 1979 Danville High School alumnus. He has worked as an EMT since 1979, and currently serves as an assistant master crew chief and paramedic for Medix Ambulance in Danville, and chief of the Tilton Ambulance service.

He is married to wife, Lori, and has three children — Jennifer, Lynzie and Garrett.

Fields said he has been active in the community, including co-founding and organizing the Tilton Redneck Games. The 8-year event has raised more than $30,000 for equipment for the Tilton Ambulance Service, training for EMTs, a college scholarship and help with funeral expenses for a local resident.

Fields said he has been interested in the coroner's office for about 10 years now. Then last November, a member of the local Democratic Party asked him to consider running.

"I wanted to make sure it would be the right decision for me and my family because family is No. 1," he said. But "my family decided for me. They said, 'We want you to do that.'"

Fields said he will bring more than three decades of experience working with the public and his EMT background.

"I have been involved with families in their time of need," he said. "I feel like I can bring the satisfaction of families knowing that they will continue to be treated with the dignity and respect they deserve."

Fields also said he would like to introduce an education awareness program for young people, aimed at preventing drug- and alcohol-related deaths from overdoses to vehicle accidents.

"I've seen it too many times," he said.

He said he built a reputation for being easygoing, hardworking and professional, and that would continue. "I want to be out there working alongside the deputy coroners," he said.

Fields, who started campaigning at the Danville and Westville Labor Day parades, said he's looking forward to getting out and meeting more people. He's also looking forward to running a "good, clean" campaign with his opponents, both of whom he called friends.

"No matter what the outcome, I will still be friends with them," he said.

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GladImovedaway wrote on January 18, 2016 at 6:01 pm

Vote for a convicted Arsonist that they let back on the Fire Dept? And now he is Deputy Chief....what are you people thinking? 

I was a teenager? Do the math, 54 minus 34 yrs, he was 20 when convicted. 

So at 19 and a LT on his Daddy's Fire Dept he out setting fires, while some of us at 17 and 18 were serving in the military.

You people get what you deserve if you vote for Sparky.