Garfield County accidental deaths double in 2016 |

Garfield County accidental deaths double in 2016

Ryan Summerlin

A new annual report from the Garfield County coroner’s office shows that the number of accidental deaths in the county nearly doubled from 2015 to 2016. However, it’s difficult to call this or any other figures in the report a trend yet, said Robert Glassmire, Garfield County coroner, because the office wasn’t compiling these numbers prior to 2015, before his term in the office.

But Glassmire hopes that tracking statistics about his office’s investigations will produce some valuable information in the future for public health, hospitals and budgetary projections.

Garfield County saw an estimated 329 total deaths last year, and the coroner’s office investigated about 38 percent of those, or 126 deaths. All together, 229 deaths were reported to the office. The office performed 61 autopsies, which accounts for about 18 percent of all deaths.

The coroner investigates a range of deaths, including accidents, suspicious deaths and unattended deaths, among others.

Of the deaths investigated by the coroner, 70 were ruled natural, 40 were accidents, 12 were suicides, two were homicides and one was undetermined. Of the 70 natural deaths investigated by the coroner, 43 were ruled to be related to cardiovascular issues, including myocardial infarcts, heart arrhythmias, strokes and aneurysms, according to the coroner. Eight were from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, six stemmed from chronic alcohol use, five from infection and eight from cancer.

Last year saw more death investigations by the coroner than in the previous year, which appears to also be true for most coroner’s offices, said Glassmire, who couldn’t speculate on why that might be.

“Specifically, accidental deaths nearly doubled from 22 in 2015 to 40 in 2016,” he wrote in his report.

Accidental deaths from overdoses on alcohol or other drugs also rose from four in 2015 to 11 last year.

More than 11 of the accidental deaths involved intoxication, though overdosing wasn’t found to be the cause. These include vehicle collisions, falls and other causes of death, according to Glassmire’s report. Half of the accidental deaths in 2015 involved intoxication, while 26 of 40 involved intoxication last year.

Of the total accidental deaths, 15 involved vehicle crashes, 10 were from drug intoxication, six involved falls, two were drownings, one was a workplace injury and one was acute alcohol intoxication. Five accidental deaths did not fit into these categories, such as a pedestrian who fell from a moving vehicle, and a hiker who suffered a fatal injury after falling on trail.

The number of suicides remained nearly the same, with 11 in 2015 and 12 in 2016.

“However, the residency of the completed suicide death is of concern,” wrote Glassmire. “In 2015, six of the 11 completed suicides were residents of Garfield County. In 2016, 11 of the 12 suicides were residents of Garfield County.” Again, an explanation for that change is harder to come by.

The coroner reported that last year, 10 suicides were men and only two were women. In recent years, 2014 saw the highest number, at 18 suicides in the county.

In addition to the effort to capture more data on the office’s investigations, Glassmire is also bringing the office up to speed in a couple of other ways.

He reported that the coroner’s office bought a fingerprint reader, used by staff to “collect scientific identifying information on all decedents” and trained the staff in its use.

For the coming couple of years, Glassmire said he also plans to prioritize getting all his investigations staffers certified as death investigators through the American Board of Medicolegal Death Investigators as well as working on getting the office accredited through the International Association of Coroners and Medical Examiners.

“We realize that every number identified in this annual report represents someone’s loved one and that to them, their loss is much more than a number,” he wrote.

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