An alert pierces the silence on the radio. There’s a car crash 10 miles out on Highway 377 just north of Morehead, driver dead on impact. Rowan County Coroner John Northcutt hears the call in the middle of dinner. His wife Tina nods in understanding. John knows the driver. He seems to know everyone in Morehead. In life, he knows their names. In death, he remembers their lives.
"We buried that boy's grandmother, grandfather, most of his family. My dad's buried them all. That family knows me very well," John says, racing down winding back roads in a black Dodge Charger, lights and sirens blaring.
As coroner, director of Northcutt & Son Home for Funerals and assistant fire chief, John knows death. When the phone rings, John answers. Even at home with Tina and 11-year-old daughter Natalie, the phone never stops.
At 1 a.m. after a long day of burials and services, a mobile home down the road catches fire. John grabs his fireman's helmet and heads back into the flames. He'll likely take care of that body, too.
"I've had a lot of close friends that I've had to pull out of cars or burning buildings. I try not to let it get me down. I just think, these people elected me to do a job and I'm going to do it," he says.
With his house less than a mile away, John can get to the funeral home quickly.
"If I get a call in the middle of the night, I can be there in a minute. Suited up, ready to go," he says.
It's been a cycle of life and death like this for 24 years. Two daughters have grown and moved away, but Natalie looks ahead at taking over the funeral business. For now, John's happy to spend as much time with family and friends as he can between calls. Steak dinners and relaxing evenings with Natalie at the piano are a small escape of laughter and happiness away from death.