County traffic deaths, suicides decline; homicides increase

December 29, 2009

By Staff

Fewer people died as a result of traffic crashes last year than in the previous decade and suicides dropped to the lowest number since 2002. But the figures — from the 2008 King County Medical Examiner’s report released last month — showed a rising number of homicides.

The report offered detailed analyses of suspicious, sudden, unexpected and violent deaths last year, as well as trends in drug overdose deaths, homicides and traffic fatalities. Read the full 2008 report at

“Medical examiner death reviews are crucial for Public Health because we can target prevention efforts based on our understanding of circumstances, risk factors and trends of these deaths,” Dr. David Fleming, director and health officer for Public Health – Seattle & King County, said in a news release. “For example, we’re able to identify the leading causes of traffic fatalities — including alcohol and drug impairment, speed and failure to wear seat belts — and work to address them.”

About 13,340 people died in King County last year, and the medical examiner’s office performed autopsies in 1,232 of the cases. The office assumed jurisdiction on 2,121 deaths: 871 deaths due to natural causes, 738 accidental deaths, 210 suicides, 163 traffic deaths, 85 homicides and 53 deaths as a result of undetermined causes.

Officials recorded more homicides and fewer fatal traffic crashes last year than in 2007. During the same period, accidental deaths and deaths from natural cases increased.

The most common cause of accidental death — 323 deaths — was falls; 261 of the accidental deaths caused by falls involved people 70 years old and up.

Firearms were the most frequent instrument of death in homicides and suicides. Officials recorded 139 firearm deaths last year: 93 suicides, 45 homicides and a single accidental death.

“Our hearts go out to the friends and families who have suffered losses. Every death we review received our fullest respect and attention,” Dr. Richard Harruff, the county’s chief medical examiner, said in a news release. “Our staff strives to investigate deaths and resolve the manner and cause of death as quickly as possible, so grieving loved ones can find some solace.”

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