Friday, November 20, 2009

King County Media Release: Fewest traffic fatalities in ten years, homicides increase

Fewest traffic fatalities in ten years, homicides increase
2008 Medical Examiner’s annual report shows King County death statistics and trends

In 2008, fewer people died from traffic crashes than in the past ten years, and the 210 deaths from suicide were the lowest since 2002. The number of homicides, however, is on the rise, according to the annual King County Medical Examiner’s report released today.

The report presents detailed analyses of suspicious, sudden, unexpected, or violent deaths in King County for the previous year, as well as trends in homicides, traffic fatalities and drug overdose deaths, many of which are preventable. The full King County Medical Examiner’s (KCME) 2008 annual report is on line 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.” said Dr. David Fleming, Director and Health Officer for Public Health – Seattle & King County. “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.”

In 2008, approximately 13,339 people died in King County, and the KCME performed autopsies approximately 10% (1232) of the time. The KCME assumed jurisdiction on 2121 deaths, which included 871 natural deaths, 738 accidental deaths, 210 suicides, 163 traffic deaths, 85 homicides, and 53 undetermined causes.

“Our hearts go out to the friends and families who have suffered losses. Every death we review received our fullest respect and attention," said Dr. Richard Harruff, Chief Medical Examiner. "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.”

Findings from the 2008 report
Compared with 2007, King County had more homicides and fewer fatal traffic crashes. Accidental deaths and deaths from natural causes both increased. Firearms were the most frequent instrument of death in homicides and suicides. Of the 139 firearm deaths in 2008, 93 were classified as suicides, 45 as homicides, and one as accidental.

Comparison of 2008 and 2007 deaths (raw numbers)

Natural deaths
2008 - 871
2007 - 863

Accidental deaths
2008 - 739
2007 - 687

Drugs and poison
2008 - 278
2007 - 302

2008 - 210
2007 - 223

2008 - 163
2007 - 170

2008 - 85
2007 - 76

Targeted prevention efforts at Public Health

Accidental deaths
The most common cause of accidental death was falls (323); 261 (81%) of the deaths caused by falls occurred in the age group 70 years and over.

Public Health’s response: Public Health's Emergency Medical Services Division (EMS) and local fire departments work to prevent falls in the home and enroll older adults who needed 9-1-1 services in the past for fall-related injuries into a fall prevention program. Falls can result in fractures, and subsequent health complications, and even death, while convalescing.
More information on the fall prevention program:

Suicide and homicide Public Health’s response: To prevent suicide deaths, Public Health recommends parents, peers, children of elderly parents, and health care providers learn the warning signs of suicide ( and where to find help ( or 1-866-427-4747).

Public Health’s Violence & Injury Prevention Unit is a partner in LOK-IT-UP, a campaign which recommends storing all firearms locked and unloaded to help reduce suicide risk The unit also trains health care providers to work with patients at-risk for suicide to remove potential methods of death (i.e. firearms) from their surroundings. Free training kits for health care providers are available. Call 206-263-8160.

Traffic fatalities
Public Health’s response
: The Violence & Injury Prevention Unit leads the King County Traffic Safety Coalition, a multi-agency group that works to alleviate the leading causes of traffic fatalities, including alcohol and drug impairment, speed, and failure to wear seat belts.

Providing effective and innovative health and disease prevention services for over 1.9 million residents and visitors of King County, Public Health – Seattle & King County works for safer and healthier communities for everyone, every day. More at

For more information contact: James Apa 206-205-5442; Matias Valenzuela 206-205-3331

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