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County: Traffic deaths lowest in ten years, homicides up

An injured cyclist is attended to by emergency responders Nov. 10. on NW Gilman Blvd. in Issaquah. Despite a drop in traffic fatalities in 2008, traffic accidents still accounted for a high number of accidental injuries and deaths in King County. - Kendall Watson/ Reporter
An injured cyclist is attended to by emergency responders Nov. 10. on NW Gilman Blvd. in Issaquah. Despite a drop in traffic fatalities in 2008, traffic accidents still accounted for a high number of accidental injuries and deaths in King County.
— image credit: Kendall Watson/ Reporter

County deaths caused by traffic accidents and suicides reached decade-lows last year while homicides were higher, according to the King County Medical Examiner’s 2008 annual report.

The annual review, released Nov. 19, tracks King County death statistics and trends in homicides, traffic fatalities and drug overdose deaths, many of which are preventable

In 2008, 163 residents died as a result of a traffic accident while 210 people committed suicide, the lowest number since 2002. Homicides, accidental deaths and deaths from natural causes, however, both increased.

The Medical Examiner's Office performed 2121 autopsies, which included 871 natural deaths, 738 accidental deaths, 210 suicides, 163 traffic deaths, 85 homicides, and 53 undetermined causes.

Approximately 13,339 people died in King County overall in 2008.

“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.”

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.

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.

“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.”

Public Health’s Violence & Injury Prevention Unit is actively targeting efforts to reduce deaths in the county, such as promoting LOK-IT-UP, a campaign which recommends storing all firearms locked and unloaded to help reduce suicide risk. The agency also leads the King County Traffic Safety Coalition, a multi-agency group that works to alleviate the leading causes of traffic fatalities.

The full King County Medical Examiner’s (KCME) 2008 annual report is available online, as well as more information on the fall prevention program and suicide prevention.

Comparison of 2007 and 2008 deaths (raw numbers)

Natural deaths 2007: 863 2008: 871

Accidental deaths 2007: 687 2008: 739

Drugs and poison 2007: 302 2008: 278

Suicide 2007: 223 2008: 210

Traffic 2007: 170 2008: 163

Homicide 2007: 76 2008: 85

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