Public Safety

Medical Examiner Report: Pedestrian Deaths Up, Suicides Down Slightly

Motor vehicle-related fatalities increased last year, with a considerable jump seen in the number of pedestrian deaths, according to the San Diego County Medical Examiner’s 2014 Annual Report, which offers an overview of cases the office investigated.

Nearly half of the 19,000 to 21,000 deaths recorded in the County annually are reported to the Medical Examiner. Most of these 9,200 cases are determined after an initial review to be sudden, unexpected natural deaths.

The data in the report focuses on the 2,972 cases in 2014 that were fully investigated by the Medical Examiner; the largest portion (47 percent, or 1,390 cases) were determined to be accidental deaths. After that, 34 percent, or 1,022 cases, were found to be natural deaths; 14 percent, or 420 cases, were suicides; 3.3 percent, or 99 cases, were homicides; and for 1.4 percent, or 41 cases, the manner of death was undetermined.

Of the accidental deaths, 481 cases involved illicit drugs, medications, or alcohol and 291 were motor vehicle-related cases.

“This sampling is a reflection of the health of the community as a whole. The report becomes a starting point for all types of other discussions, whether it’s issues of health or public safety,” said Chief Deputy Medical Examiner Dr. Jonathan Lucas.

Rate per 100,000

Among the drug deaths, methamphetamine was the number one cause of drug-related fatalities with 169 deaths, even after dropping from the previous year’s 190 deaths. Alcohol followed with the next highest number of cases–133 deaths—while heroin was the cause in 105 deaths. Heroin-related fatalities have increased over the past nine years and more than doubled since 2007. The ME’s department reports seeing 71 Oxycodone-related deaths, up from 49 cases in 2013.

Motor vehicle-related fatalities accounted for 291 cases in 2014, up from 247 the previous year, an increase of nearly 18 percent. Accidental pedestrian deaths made up 88 of those cases. The total does not include two pedestrian deaths ruled homicides and three suicide pedestrian deaths. Those 88 cases are up from 64 deaths the previous year.

Additional motor vehicle-related victims included 70 motor vehicle drivers, 57 motorcyclists, 34 motor vehicle passengers,10 bicyclists and eight motor vehicle occupants.

Lucas said that almost half of the accidental pedestrian deaths who were tested were under the influence of alcohol and/or illicit drugs – most commonly methamphetamine or THC.  Many of those killed were people running across freeways while it was dark outside, Lucas added.

Suicides, while still higher than national or statewide rates, were down slightly in numbers this year with 420 deaths, compared to 441 deaths in 2013. As in previous years in San Diego County, the Medical Examiner’s department found the highest rates of suicide among men older than 85 years old.

Rate per 100,000

The County urges anyone who is struggling with depression or is concerned about a loved one to seek out free mental health and substance abuse counseling. Call the County’s Behavioral Health Access and Crisis Line at (888) 724-7240. Suicide prevention and awareness information is also available at up2sd.org.

Yvette Urrea Moe is a communications specialist with the County of San Diego Communications Office. Contact