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2018 Coroner’s Report: A full breakdown of what impacted El Paso County

Posted at 11:26 AM, Jun 12, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-12 13:26:54-04

EL PASO COUNTY – According to the annual report issued from the El Paso County Coroner’s Office, in 2018 there were fewer fatal drug overdoses, fewer overall accidental deaths and suicides, but significant increases in fatal crashes and homicides.

Every year, the El Paso County Coroner’s Office releases a report that details its total number of death investigations as well as a breakdown of how many autopsies were performed.

According to the department, deaths are investigated if they are “sudden, unexpected, [or] non-natural.”

In 2018, the office investigated a total of 4,779 deaths, primarily inside El Paso County. Its investigations constituted about 90% of all deaths inside the county.

Included inside that number are the 844 autopsies performed on El Paso County deaths as well as the 354 autopsies conducted for surrounding counties.

“We don’t do any autopsies to help the person that has died, they are deceased and no longer with us. The whole goal of an autopsy is to learn about the death, figure out what happened and be better equipped in the future to prevent something similar deaths.”

-Dr. Leon Kelly, Coroner

Of the autopsies performed in 2018, the causes of death broke down as follows:

Natural: 30%
Accidental: 44%
Suicide: 18%
Homicide: 7%
The remaining 1.1% falling under the classification of undetermined or unclassified.

As seen above, the largest category is the listing of accidental deaths. The main contributors in this category are:

Drug overdoses: 133 deaths
Fatal falls: 100 deaths
Deadly accidents involving motor vehicles: 86

The number of drug-related deaths is actually a 10% decrease from a total of 147 recorded in 2017. Of that number, 78 lost their lives in accidents involving opioids.

This is a marked decrease from 2017 when 92 died from opioid usage.

The primary drugs found in fatal overdoses are as follows:

  • Methamphetamine: 67
  • Heroin: 47
  • Assorted RX opiates: 21
  • Cocaine: 18

A study of all the autopsies performed over the course of 2018 revealed that 60% of all the deaths related to accidental fatal opioid overdoses involved heroin.

Perhaps some good news to come from this report and reports from previous years is the steady decrease in fatal overdoses involving prescription opioids:

  • 2016: 77
  • 2017: 35
  • 2018: 21

Additionally, the following factors were compiled as a result of the study:

  • 74% of accidental drug deaths were male
  • 70% of decedents had a prior history of substance abuse or addiction
  • 23% had a known history of mental illness
  • 12% of medication used in overdoses was prescribed by the decedent’s physician

In relation to the deadly motor vehicle accidents, overall the report indicates that 86 El Paso County residents lost their lives.

Included in this number are 67 deaths that involved people inside or driving their vehicles, an increase over the 60 recorded in 2017.

In these cases, the data indicates again the use of a seat belt was a large life-saving factor:

  • 24% (16) of decedents used seat belts
  • 37% (25) of decedents did not use seat belts
  • 18% (12) of decedents were riding motorcycles

The report further details that in 41 of these cases, the accident was caused by operator error. In 31 of these “driver-at-fault” incidences, the person behind the wheel was found to have drugs, alcohol, or THC in their system at the time of the autopsy.

The other 19 deaths included the total were pedestrians who were struck and fatally injured.

The office determined that in 53% of the cases that resulted in pedestrian deaths, the pedestrian was found to be in error.

One of the ongoing goals of the coroner’s office is to better understand and further break down the factors that cause the loss of life in the county. This, again, is in an effort to prevent a similar loss of life in the future and lead the county in a healthier direction.

To that end, the department compiled a list of factors that contributed to deaths in the homeless community of El Paso County.

For the purposes of this study, the coroner’s office defined homelessness as anyone who is:

  • Sleeping on the streets
  • Sleeping in a tent, vehicle, or shelter
  • Couch surfing or squatting
  • Currently going through a transitional housing program
  • Living in a temporary residence or motel

With these parameters in place, the county determined 61 homeless people died in 2018 who were part of the homeless community of El Paso County.

These deaths broke down in the following manner:

  • 56% (34) were accidental
  • 29% (18) were natural
  • 10% (6) were homicides
  • 3% (2) were suicides
  • 2% (1) were undetermined

The vast majority of the deaths in the county’s homeless population were accidental and fall primarily into two categories:

  • Drug overdoses
  • Fatal pedestrian injuries

Throughout 2018 nearly half of all accidental pedestrian deaths (nine) occurred in the homeless community.

As for drug-related deaths, which accounted for 19 deaths throughout the year, more than half were related to methamphetamine usage.

According to the Coroner’s Office, homicides have recently increased over the fairly consistent numbers seen in the past few years.

  • 2015: 41
  • 2016: 38
  • 2017: 42
  • 2018: 56

Firearms were used in 41 homicide cases during 2018.

Further research into fatal firearm usage over the course of 2018 revealed the following:

  • 64% (80) of fatal encounters were attributed to suicide
  • 33% (41) of fatal encounters were attributed to homicide
  • 3% (4) of fatal encounters were attributed to accidents

Suicides overall decreased from a total of 164 in 2017 to 152 this past year.

The office makes special note of the fact that suicides recorded in minors dropped by more than half:

2017: 13
2018: 7

According to the office, these deaths (and other child fatalities) are investigated individually, “By the El Paso County Child Fatality Review Team to identify strategies to prevent these types of deaths in the future. [This] has resulted in community-wide efforts to decrease teen suicide in El Paso County.”

If you or someone you know is struggling with depression or thoughts of self-harm, don’t be silent. There are people ready and waiting to help.