King County Medical Examiner’s report shows a decline in homicides, suicides

January 3, 2012

By Warren Kagarise

King County experienced the fewest homicides — 59 — in a decade last year, and suicides declined after a spike in 2009.

The information comes from the King County Medical Examiner’s Office. In the agency’s annual report, officials analyze suspicious, sudden, unexpected and violent deaths in King County, plus trends in drug overdose deaths, homicides and traffic fatalities.

The medical examiner’s office assumed jurisdiction in 2,060 deaths — 953 natural deaths, 593 accidental deaths, 232 suicides, 150 traffic deaths, 59 homicides and 73 deaths due to undetermined causes. (Officials investigated 253 suicides and 63 homicides in 2009.)

“Every death we review receives our fullest respect and attention,” Dr. Richard Harruff, chief medical examiner, said in a statement. “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.”

The total includes 19 deaths in the Issaquah area. The deaths investigated by the medical examiner’s office reflect some high-profile incidents.

The 12 accidental deaths in the local tally include a June 2010 drowning at Lake Sammamish State Park. Seattle resident Geronimo Morales, 23, drowned just offshore at Tibbetts Beach.

The homicides in the local tally occurred at a Lake Sammamish State Park shootout July 17, 2010.

King County prosecutors and investigators said a then-21-year-old Renton man gunned down Justin Cunningham, 30. Investigators also said Cunningham shot and killed Yang Keovongphet, 33, before the Renton man killed Cunningham. (State law shielded the Renton man from prosecution because investigators determined he acted in self-defense.)

The three traffic fatalities in the Issaquah area included the death of motorcyclist and Issaquah resident Kenneth Earl Solders, 57, in a March 2010 crash on Southeast Tiger Mountain Road.

The local deaths also included a suicide and a death due to undetermined causes.

Overall, King County experienced fewer homicides, suicides, accidental deaths and deaths from natural causes last year than in 2009.

The report includes only deaths under medical examiner’s office jurisdiction. The agency released the 2010 report Dec. 19.

The deaths investigated by the medical examiner’s office also made 156 organ transplants possible last year.

Firearms ranked as the most frequent instrument of death in homicides and suicides.

Though drug overdoses declined from 2009 to 2010, overdoses still caused more than one-third of all accidental deaths investigated by the agency. Officials also recorded a substantial decrease in methadone- and oxycodone-related deaths from 2009 to 2010.

Investigators said methadone contributed to 77 deaths last year, compared to 129 in 2009. The drug ranked as the primary cause of death in 67 deaths from last year, compared to 85 in 2009. Oxycodone contributed to 77 deaths last year, compared to 105 in 2009.

Following a decline from 2008 to 2009, traffic deaths increased last year to 150 from 141 during the previous year.

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.

Public Health – Seattle & King County’s Emergency Medical Services Division and local fire departments work to prevent falls in the home and enroll elderly adults in a fall prevention program.

“Understanding how and why people died in King County allows us to target our public health efforts to prevent early deaths,” Dr. David Fleming, Public Health – Seattle & King County director and health officer, said in a statement. “Take traffic fatalities, for example. We know that alcohol and drug impairment, speed and not wearing seatbelts contribute to traffic fatalities. So we work with partners throughout King County to help alleviate those causes and hopefully save lives.”

On the Web

Read the 2010 annual report on local deaths from the King County Medical Examiner’s Office at examiner.

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or Comment at

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