EBENSBURG – The owner of a Johnstown funeral home says he will reconsider his decision to withdraw from the race for Cambria County coroner after winning the Republican nomination in last week’s primary election.
Frank Duca announced his plans to withdraw from the race in April, after the state’s deadline to remove his name from the May 21 primary ballot.
Despite this announcement, unofficial results showed Duca earning 4,364 votes to defeat Republican challenger Gregory Jones, who received 3,952 votes.
“In April, I verbally withdrew from the primary election for my own personal and family reasons,” Duca said in a statement issued to media. “I am very humbled by the support and response of the voters of Cambria County. I did not expect to win the nomination for Cambria County coroner, after withdrawing from the campaign. I need to address this overwhelming support and reconsider my decision.”
Duca said in 41 years as a funeral director, he works the same hours required of coroner: 24 hours per day, seven days per week and 365 days per year. Being a Republican or Democrat should not be a consideration for this position, Duca said, but it is, so he will need full support of both parties and of his family if he decides to continue pursuing the position.
“I need to research some changes that I would like to make to the Cambria County Coroner’s Office, in order for me to operate the office in the best possible way,” Duca’s statement says.
“This may take some time. I then can make a decision to accept this nomination for Cambria County coroner.”
Incumbent Democrat Jeff Lees received 9,526 votes and there were approximately 525 write-in votes cast by both Republicans and Democrats in the coroner’s race, according to the unofficial results.
Duca has until Aug. 12 to decide whether he will accept the Republican nomination.
If he rejects the nomination, the Cambria County Republican Party will be tasked with appointing a nomination to run against Lees in November.
Jones will not have the option to run as an independent candidate because party changes must be made prior to the primary, according to the Cambria County Elections Office.
Jones said he will not pursue the office through a write-in campaign if Duca accepts the nomination.
“It’s up to him,” Jones said. “There are a lot of factors here.”
According to Jones, many voters contacted him and said they were unaware Duca had verbally withdrawn from the race. Jones said he wonders if Duca’s announcement was strategic and questions why he would go back on his word to accept the nomination.
Jones also addressed a May 7 crash with a school bus that sent two Greater Johnstown School District students to the hospital with minor injuries.
“That was an unfortunate accident,” he said.
According to Jones, his son, a student at Greater Johnstown High School, called him and was frantic about other students threatening him. Jones said he could hear students making threats in the background while he was on the phone and immediately began to rush to the school to pick his son up.
Johnstown police said Jones was driving a 2015 Ford when he ran the red light at Vine and Franklin streets and struck the side of a McIlwain school bus carrying 38 students who were on their way home.
Two students suffered minor injuries and were treated at Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center and a second school bus arrived to take the remaining students home.
Jones said he called 911 to report the crash, but continued to the high school to pick up his son. When Jones arrived, he said a student was still making verbal threats to kill his son.
“I don’t take those things lightly,” said Jones, who has lost two sons to gun violence, including Kyfen, who died in a 2016 shooting in Johnstown that remains unsolved.
“I was not going to lose another son.”
Amy Arcurio, superintendent of Greater Johnstown School District, confirmed the incident began after the high school dismissed that day in the Hornerstown neighborhood.
“The students returned to campus and the (Student Resource Officer) supported Mr. Jones upon arrival,” Arcurio wrote in an email.
Jones was later cited for failing to stop at a red light and paid $142.50 in fines and court costs.
Jones, who has since moved his son out of the Greater Johnstown School District, said the accident was politicized and that Cambria County residents are “tired of these types of politics,” which is why he decided to seek the coroner’s office in the first place.
“We are living in a lawless county,” Jones said.
“There’s no accountability right now.”
Duca could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Commissioners race still close
A military absentee ballot added to Cambria County’s unofficial vote tally Tuesday increased Scott Hunt’s lead to three votes for the second Republican nomination for Cambria County commissioner.
After absentee ballots were calculated last week, Hunt, of Upper Yoder Township, defeated Paul Seitz, of Geistown, by two votes, according to unofficial results.
With the additional absentee processed, unofficial results reflect Hunt earning 2,964 votes against Seitz’s 2,961.
Seitz will have until June 5 to file for a recount, according to the state election laws.
The costs for a recount are the responsibility of the candidate who files it.
It costs around $100 to file the petition for a recount, plus an additional $50 for each group of absentee ballots per precinct, according to the Cambria County Prothonotary’s Office.
Jerry Carnicella, of Patton, earned the most votes of the six Republican candidates seeking the two commissioner nominations, which secured his placement on the November ballot.
According to unofficial results, Carnicella received 3,823 votes, or nearly 23 percent.
Without a petition for recount, the fall election will task voters to choose from Carnicella, Hunt and incumbent Democrats Tom Chernisky and William “B.J.” Smith for the county’s three-member board of commissioners.