Car crashes and drug overdoses killed more people in Franklin County than guns last year.
Even so, fatal wrecks increased by one to just six in 2016, Coroner Dan Blasdel said.
In the ’90s, fatal crashes on Franklin County roads averaged about 13 a year.
State improvements at problem intersections are helping save lives, Blasdel said.
“The real trouble spots, they have taken care of, and our motor vehicle fatalities dropped considerably,” he said. “If we get a motor vehicle fatality now, it is because they weren’t wearing a seat belt.”
In all, Blasdel and his deputy coroners were called in to check on 226 deaths last year, with 103 of those needing exams or autopsies.
“Not all deaths need to be reported to the coroner, like if they have a long stay in the hospital … and it’s a natural death,” he said.
If a person dies while under the care of a physician from natural causes, doctors handle reporting the death.
Other accidental deaths included six from drug overdoses, one drowning and one death where the cause was undetermined.
The county had two homicides last year, though just one resulted in criminal charges. That’s down from five homicides in 2015.
On June 10, Travis Yeates, 34, of Kennewick, was shot and killed by Corey Chapman inside Chapman’s Pasco home. The shooting was ruled to be justified.
On Dec. 30, Tommy De Leon was shot in the torso in Pasco after an argument in a bar moved to a residential area. Two half-brothers, Simeon C.E. Howard, 34, of Richland, and Nathaniel L. Thompson, 26, of Kennewick, are charged with murder and awaiting trial.
Eight deaths in 2016 were ruled suicides, down from nine the previous year. Three people hanged themselves, three died from gunshot wounds, two overdosed and one jumped to his death from the blue bridge, Blasdel said.
You are usually dealing with people at the worst moment in their life. It can have an effect on you. I want to be able to rotate staff so they don’t burn out.
Franklin County Coroner Dan Blasdel
As the weather warms, the coroner expects they will get more calls. Spring and summer months yield more deaths as people become more active. Blasdel said there are more accidental deaths, such as drownings and traffic fatalities.
The growing population of Franklin County also is expected to increase the workload. They were doing 99 death investigations 22 years ago when Blasdel was first elected in 1994. It was a two-person office.
Blasdel now has one full-time and one part-time deputy coroner, and they handle more than 200 investigations annually.
“Last week I had six calls in six days — two drug overdoses, a motorcycle fatality and three from natural causes — by the end of the week I was overwhelmed.
“I put in (to county commissioners) for the last three years for additional money for part-time help, and next year I am going to try to convert (the part-time position) to a full-time position to make it three of us in the office,” he said.
“You are usually dealing with people at the worst moment in their life. It can have an effect on you. I want to be able to rotate staff so they don’t burn out,” he said.