Public Safety

Medical Examiner’s Annual Report: Preventable Deaths Set Grim Records in 2011

The San Diego County Medical Examiner’s Office released its 2011 annual report Monday, confirming in stark statistics a record number of suicides and murder-suicides in the County last year and the dominance of prescription drugs as the number one cause of accidental death—coming in ahead of car accidents for the second time.

For the first time ever in 2011, a relatively new group of synthetic drugs known as “bath salts” was linked to local deaths, with three deaths attributed to a drug in this group.

The report contains encouraging data, too. For the first time in 11 years, no one under 15 was killed while travelling in a motor vehicle.

“Because of the kinds of deaths we investigate—suicides, accidents, homicides, and unexpected deaths, we have a window into the problems and risks facing the living, and the annual report reveals some of them,” said Chief Deputy Medical Examiner Dr. Jonathan Lucas.  

In 2011, 10,226 deaths, or about half of the approximately 20,000 total deaths in the County, were reported to the San Diego County Medical Examiner. The office actively investigated 2,853 of those deaths and performed 1,962 autopsies and 901 external examinations.

In 2011, 45 percent of the deaths investigated by the Medical Examiner were accidents, 37 percent were natural deaths, 14 percent were suicides and 3 percent were homicides. In one percent of cases, no manner of death could be determined.

  Other findings among last year’s cases include:

  • The leading cause of natural death among Medical Examiner cases remained cardiovascular disease.
  • 2011 recorded more murder-suicide events (11), with more resulting deaths (28), than any year in the Medical Examiner’s statistical records, which date back to 1988.
  • The County recorded a record number of suicides (392) and a suicide rate (12.6 per 100,000 people) that rose for the fifth year in a row. The suicide rate is still lower than rates recorded through most of the the 1990s.  
  • 242 people died in a motor-vehicle related death. But motor-vehicle deaths are occurring at about half the rate of the early 90s, and 2010 and 2011 both saw fewer motor-vehicle related deaths and lower rates compared to others years in the Medical Examiner’s records since 1988.
  • Of drivers killed in car accidents, 45 percent were over the legal limit for blood alcohol content.
  • 267 deaths were related to prescription drugs, an increase over last year and part of a disturbing trend seen over the last six years.
  • 91 homicides represented an uptick after homicides reached a 20-year low in 2010. Still, 2009 through 2011 saw the lowest rates and fewest numbers of homicides per year than other years in the M.E. data since 1988.
  • Eight infants died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, the fewest local SIDS deaths on record.    

Along with its annual report release, the Medical Examiner’s Office is also highlighting mental health help available to anyone who is struggling or worried about a friend or loved one. Counselors are always available at the County’s Behavioral Health Access and Crisis Line at 888-724-7240.

The full annual report is available at