County deaths increase in 2017

By David Showers
This article was published March 14, 2018 at 5:00 a.m.

Reported deaths in the county rose more than 6 percent last year, according to information Coroner Stuart Smedley provided the Garland County Quorum Court, with deaths by suicide increasing by 70 percent.

The 1,514 deaths reported in 2017 exceeded the previous year's total by 98. The county had 1,490 reported deaths in 2015 and 1,443 in 2014. Deaths by suicide rose from 20 in 2016 to 34 last year. The county had 41 reported suicide-related deaths in 2015. There were 10 homicides, compared to 11 in 2016 and nine in 2015.

The coroner was notified in 1,225 of the deaths reported last year. State law mandates notification when certain circumstances attend a death, such as the appearance of a violent or unnatural cause, if the death occurs in the home, within 24 hours of admission into an emergency room, while in police or Department of Correction custody or if the deceased is a minor.

Other triggering factors include deaths that appear to be caused by fire or an explosion, drowning, a motor vehicle accident, drugs or poison.

Natural causes were linked to 1,386 of last year's reported deaths, up from 1,311 in 2016 and 1,369 in 2015. Seventy-four were deemed accidental, compared to 71 in 2016, one was undetermined and nine are pending. The coroner's office has said the undetermined classification includes deaths caused by drug overdoses, which are difficult for the state medical examiner to determine if they are intentional or accidental.

A cause of death is pending if lab work, an autopsy or additional information is needed to conclude an investigation. The coroner's office investigated 289 deaths last year, requiring it to document the description of the body and scene, estimate the time of death, positively identify the victim, give an opinion on the cause of death and certify the cause within 48 hours of opening the investigation.

Twenty-one county deaths were referred to the state medical examiner last year and 48 of the deceased were held in the morgue at the coroner's office. The morgue holds homicide victims until they are autopsied at the state crime lab and the deceased whose next of kin have not been notified.

Local on 03/14/2018
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