Franklin County is coming off a violent 2018

Franklin County is coming off one of its more violent years in recent memory.

The coroner’s office confirmed six homicides in 2018, after just one in 2017.

The rural, largely agricultural county saw two shootings, two stabbings, a strangulation and a fatal hit-and-run among the 257 cases reported to the coroner.

Valentine’s Day saw the county’s first murder, when Hector Orozco Jr. allegedly beat and stabbed Demetrius A. Graves, 39, in the street near a downtown alley.

As he was fleeing, he brutally killed 82-year-old Bonnie Ross inside her West Washington Street home, according to court records. Police found him at the Rodeway Inn driving her car.

Hector Orozco court hold
Hector Orozco Jr. is charged with killing Demetrius A. Graves, 39, near a downtown alley, then killing 82-year-old Bonnie Ross inside her home. Bob Brawdy Tri-City Herald

The first shooting happened June 3, when Victor A. Paniagua, 27, shot Abel Yanez Contreras in the chest after an argument about not wanting the other man’s help.

A jury found Paniagua guilty of second-degree murder in late fall. He is serving a 37-year sentence for killing the father of six.

In early July, the body of Michelle Hudnall was discovered by people visiting Carbody Beach in Franklin County. Investigators believe Florentino Jai Castillo and Benny Rodriguez Lozano strangled the mother of four on May 14. With the alleged help of Guadalupe A. Sanchez, they dumped per body at the beach.

michelle selfie
Michelle Hudnall had her struggles, but was an adoring mother and beloved daughter, sister and friend, loved ones said. Three people face charges in connection with her slaying. Joedie Lee Hosley

Then in November, Martin Perez Garcia, 27, was walking home when a person driving a SUV hit and killed him. He was found between the northbound ramp of Highway 395 and the westbound ramp from Interstate 182. The driver of Chevy Blazer has not been found.

Martin Perez Garcia
Martin Perez Garcia, 27, was killed Sunday by a hit-and-run driver in Pasco. He had three sons and a daughter. Courtesy Rebecca Pimienta

The last homicide happened in December when Anthony D. Hamilton, 29, allegedly shot Javier J. Flores in the throat inside a Yakima Street home. Hamilton and Jerry D. Porter Sr., 30, are charged in Franklin County Superior Court with first-degree murder.

Last year, coroner officials also investigated 25 fatal accidents, eight suicides and four deaths with undetermined causes.

That compares to 21 fatal accidents, six suicides and five unknowns in 2017.

Among those 2018 accidents is the death of a Basin City concrete worker, John C. Orozco Sr., 57, who was killed in a high-speed crash with Larry Pence, 40, on Glade Road North in Franklin County.

While Pence may face charges for causing the crash, the death was classified as an accident in the year-end report.

One statistic that caught the attention of former Coroner Dan Blasdel were the 11 deaths waiting for the Washington State Patrol Toxicology Lab to return with blood test results. The final paperwork can’t be finished because of a six-month delay at the crime lab.

“Most of those that are pending, we’re pretty sure they’re going to be overdoses, but we’re not going to be sure until we get those results,” Blasdel said.

If a majority of them are drug-related, they would be added to the five overdoses the coroner’s office confirmed in 2018. That could push overdose deaths past those from guns (7), vehicles (5), drowning (4) and asphyxia (4) to become the leading cause of unnatural deaths in the county.

Opioids and amphetamine are the leading drugs in Franklin County overdose deaths, Blasdel said.

Even with a new coroner taking over in Franklin County, Blasdel said he plans to stay involved on the state level in trying to make it easier for coroners to go to private labs. He was still checking on deaths from June as he finished his last day as coroner in December.

The delays continue to frustrate law enforcement and keep families uncertain about why their loved one died, he said.

The number of suicides rose slightly from six to eight for the year. Five were by guns.

Cancer continues to be the leading cause of natural unattended deaths in the county, with 55 deaths.

Cardiac problems (53) was second, with neurological issues (47) third — a flip from 2017.

The remaining causes included pulmonary (28), kidney failure (9), liver failure (7), and gastrointestinal problems,(5).

Cameron Probert covers breaking news and education for the Tri-City Herald, where he tries to answer readers’ questions about why police officers and firefighters are in your neighborhood. He studied communications at Washington State University.