Northwest NEWS

January 8,2001


Public Health releases report on death trends for King County

Public Health's Medical Examiner's Office released its annual report documenting deaths and death trends for calendar year 1999. The Medical Examiner investigated 89 homicides, 200 fatal traffic accidents, 404 other kinds of fatal accidents, 221 suicides, and 210 drug deaths.
   "The Medical Examiner investigates all sudden, unexpected, suspicious, and violent deaths that occur in King County," said Dr. Alonzo Plough, Director of Public Health - Seattle & King County.
   "These investigations assist grieving families in finding closure by expediting settlement of insurance claims and estates and by assuring that appropriate criminal and civil actions are taken."
   Medical Examiner investigations include cases where the incident leading to the death occurred outside King County, but the injured person died within the county.
   The full report is available online at
   Key findings:
   Of all King County deaths (13, 318) in 1999, 6,416 or 48 percent were reported to the Medical Examiner.
   Based on review of the circumstances surrounding the death, the Medical Examiner investigated 1,468 of these reported deaths.
   One hundred sixty-six were the result of injuries sustained outside of King County, but where the death occurred in King County.
   The Medical Examiner investigated:
   221 suicides, an increase from 201 in 1998 and 188 in 1997, but less than 238 in 1996.
   One hundred six, or 48 percent of the suicides, were by the use of firearms.
   There were 16 teenage suicides of persons 13 years through 19 years of age in 1998 and 15 teenage suicides in 1997.
   210 drug-related deaths in 1999 (164 accidents, 35 suicides, and 11 undetermined).
   The number of drug deaths in 1999 was a decrease compared to 1998 when there were 234 drug deaths, according to King County records.
   There were 114 opiate deaths and 73 cocaine deaths, most often in combination with other drugs and alcohol. The 114 opiate deaths in 1999 were a decrease from 1998 (144).
   89 homicides in 1999, a decrease from the 90 investigated in 1998.
   Eighty-two homicides occurred in King County, and seven were due to incidents that occurred outside of King County.
   Fifty-two (58 percent) of the homicides were due to the use of firearms. Two cases were suspected child abuse.
   200 fatal traffic accidents, either motor vehicles, motorcycles, pedestrians, or bicycle riders.
   Of the motor vehicle drivers and passengers, 27 percent were known to be wearing seat belts.
   Of the motorcycle riders, 61 percent were known to be wearing helmets. Ninety-three of these deaths were the result of out-of-county accidents.
   404 other kinds of fatal accidents or unintentional injuries.
   The most common cause of accidental death was overdose of drugs and poisons (164), compared to 179 in 1998. The second most common cause of accidental death was falls (147).
   511 deaths due to natural causes that came under the Medical Examiner's review.
   Three hundred six of these deaths were due to cardiovascular disease. There were 11 cases of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). (Recent work by Public Health - Seattle & King County and other researchers have shown that putting infants to sleep on their backs or sides, not their stomachs, decreases the risk of SIDS.)
   Forty-three deaths classified as undetermined.
   Deaths are so classified where it cannot be established whether the death was intentional or accidental. Eleven of these were caused by drug overdoses. Three deaths of undetermined manner were due to firearms.