Troubled youth on a tour of the morgue are shown some of the macabre instruments and collections of York County Deputy Coroner Onalee Gilbert's profession: the autopsy saw, body bags, and an enlarged heart preserved to show the dangers of cocaine use.

Gilbert calls the program "Scared Straight" and, if her bid to become the next York County coroner is successful, she'll expand the initiative to serve as a deterrent against reckless living.

The 47-year-old Lower Windsor Township woman said in addition to performing the daily functions of a coroner, she would prioritize educating middle- and high-school students about the dangers of drugs and alcohol.

It wouldn't cost anything, she said, because her salaries and those of her assistants would already be covered.

She said she'd be a fiscally mindful coroner, choosing to renovate the existing morgue if necessary instead of building a new one that would lack the benefits of the morgue's current location in York Hospital.

Background: Gilbert said she has worked in pathology since 1995, when she started assisting with autopsies at the York Hospital morgue that serves WellSpan and York County.

A deputy coroner since 1997, she was earlier trained as a phlebotomist and received her pathology training from a York Hospital pathologist, she said.

Gilbert has all of the necessary state certifications to be coroner, as well as the proper experience and approach to bring to the position, she said.

"When you do that job, you appreciate your family a lot more than anything because life is taken away just like that," Gilbert said.

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