King County traffic deaths, homicides decline

In 2011, King County saw the fewest traffic deaths and homicides in more than 10 years, according to the King County Medical Examiner's (KCME) Annual Report released today. In contrast, drug-induced deaths are an increasing concern in King County.

The KCME 2011 Annual Report presents a detailed analysis of deaths that fell under KCME's jurisdiction in 2011, including suspicious, sudden, unexpected or violent deaths in King County, as well as trends in homicides, traffic fatalities and drug overdose deaths. The full King County Medical Examiner's 2011 Annual Report is available at, visit

"Medical Examiner death reviews support Public Health’s prevention efforts,” said Dr. David Fleming, Director and Health Officer for Public Health — Seattle & King County. "We can target prevention efforts based on our understanding of circumstances, risk factors and trends of these deaths. For example, we're able to identify the leading causes of deaths from traffic crashes – including alcohol and drug impairment, speed, and failure to wear seat belts – and work to address them.”

Findings from the 2011 annual report include:

• Compared with 2010, KCME saw fewer homicides and traffic deaths, and an increase in suicides.

• More people died as a result of accidental overdoses (203) than traffic crashes (135).

• The number of deaths in which oxycodone was present increased by 30 percent, from 65 in 2010 to 85 in 2011.

In 2011, there were an estimated 13,355 deaths in King County. KCME assumed jurisdiction in 2,112 deaths and performed autopsies 59 percent (1,196) of the time.

"Every death we review receives our fullest respect and attention," said Dr. Richard Harruff, Chief Medical Examiner. "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."

Targeted prevention efforts at Public Health

Public Health – Seattle & King County studies circumstances and risk factors of deaths based on the KCME's findings in order to put measures in place to prevent them.

Traffic fatalities: There were 135 traffic fatalities in King County in 2010. To reduce the number of traffic crashes and traffic-related injuries and fatalities, Public Health leads the King County Target Zero Task Force, a multi-agency group that includes law enforcement, community and human services, liquor control, nonprofits, traffic engineers and others. The Traffic Safety Task Force works to alleviate the leading causes of traffic fatalities, including alcohol and drug impairment, speed, and failure to wear seat belts. More information on the King County Target Zero Task Force.

Accidental deaths: The most common cause of accidental deaths in 2011 was falls, most of which occurred in the age group 70 years and over. 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 that subsequently lead to health complications, or even death, while convalescing. More information on the fall prevention program.

Suicide: In 2011, there were 265 suicides in King County. 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 is a partner in LOK-IT-UP, a campaign which recommends storing all firearms locked and unloaded to help reduce suicide risk. More information on LOK-IT-UP.

Elder Fatality Review Team: In conjunction with the King County Prosecuting Attorney's Office, Public Health has an Elder Fatality Review Team that reviews selected elderly deaths as part of our enhanced surveillance for elder mistreatment deaths.

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