Report: suicides increase as murders, traffic deaths decline

January 11, 2011

By Staff

Deaths due to murder and traffic accidents has dipped to the lowest point in a decade in 2009, but the number of suicides has increased to the highest number since 2000.

The annual report from the King County Medical Examiner’s Office offers detailed analyses of suspicious, sudden, unexpected and violent deaths, plus trends in drug overdose deaths, homicides and traffic fatalities. The agency released the initial data from the 2009 report Dec. 28.

The medical examiner’s office estimated 12,967 deaths occurred in King County in 2009. Officials performed autopsies in about 10 percent of the cases — or 1,226 deaths.

The agency assumed jurisdiction in 2,190 deaths — 989 natural deaths, 632 accidental deaths, 253 suicides, 141 traffic deaths, 63 homicides and 59 deaths due to undetermined causes.

The total includes 18 Issaquah deaths — 13 accidental deaths, three suicides, one traffic fatality and one death due to undetermined causes.

The medical examiner’s office identified firearms as the most frequent instrument of death in homicides and suicides. The office recorded 146 firearm deaths in 2009, including 41 homicides, 100 suicides and one accidental death.

The most common cause of accidental death: falls. The medical examiner’s office said most of the accidental deaths due to falls involved people age 70 and older.

“Medical examiner death reviews are a critical component of public health prevention efforts,” Dr. David Fleming, Public Health – Seattle & King County director and health officer, said in a statement.

Officials then use the data from the report to launch programs, such as crisis counseling, to safeguard residents.

“Because we know the circumstances, risk factors and trends of death in King County, we can target efforts and work to prevent early deaths,” Fleming said. “Traffic fatalities are a clear example of this. We know that alcohol and drug impairment, speed and failure to wear seatbelts contribute to traffic fatalities, and we work with partners throughout King County to help alleviate those causes.”

The agency also had to confront cuts to public health services. The medical examiner’s office has eliminated 4.5 full-time death investigators, plus the reduction of a part-time anthropologist, since 2009. The reduced number of staff has led to fewer investigators on the night shift and longer response times.

“Our hearts go out to the friends and families who have suffered losses,” Dr. Richard Harruff, chief medical examiner, said in a statement. “Every death we review receives our fullest respect and attention. We work to investigate and resolve the manner and cause of death as quickly as possible, and in the most scientific and professional manner so grieving loved ones can find some solace.”

On the Web

Read the complete 2009 annual report from the King County Medical Examiner’s Office at the agency website.

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