Big jump in 'non-natural; deaths so far this year, county coroner reports

Sep 13, 2019 Clair McFarland, Staff Writer

Fremont County Coroner Mark Stratmoen report that rising numbers of non-natural deaths in the county are "notable," and cited drugs and alcohol as a key factor.

Stratmoen reported his findings at the Sept. 10 meeting of the Fremont County Commissioners.

In a separate interview, the coroner defined "non-natural deaths" as any fatality resulting from suicide, homicide, accidents, or undetermined causes. In short, any death that results from circumstances other than ill health or old age could be considered non-natural.

By the second week in September in 2018, there had been four deaths by suicide, two by homicide, and 16 that were accidental in nature, for a total of 22 non-natural deaths. This year, however, there were 10 suicides, six homicides, and 25 accidental deaths as of Tuesday, Sept. 10 -- for a total of 41.

The fatal accidents of this year result from seven motor vehicle deaths, six due directly to drug/alcohol toxicity, five falls, two drownings, two deaths by asphyxiation, and one each by carbon monoxide and hypothermia.

There was one more accident investigated by the coroner's office that was later determined to be in a different jurisdiction.

Drugs and alcohol

With non-natural and natural deaths combined, there had been 94 as of mid-September 2018. As of last Tuesday, there had been 112 for 2019.

The comparatively minimal increase in total deaths from last year to this does not match up, proportionately, with the nearly-double spike in non-natural deaths.

Stratmoen told the Ranger that with natural deaths, "it's a matter of things naturally cycling up and down... But if there are spikes in certain things, the public needs to be aware of what might have contributed to that."

The coroner's report clarifies the majority cause of non-natural fatalities in the county this year: "Including direct toxicity, drug and alcohol related deaths are 65 percent of the total of non-natural deaths," the report states.


The rise in non-natural numbers also bears attendant expense hikes for the county, said Stratmoen.

Autopsies can run between, roughly, one and two thousand dollars, depending upon the circumstances of death.

In immediate succession, the coroner and the sheriff both reported Tuesday that Fremont County Search and Rescue missions have been occurring more frequently this year than last. As there were fatalities associated with some of the recovery missions, the coroner's office will shoulder a portion of the expenses. For two fatality/recovery SAR missions, "the sheriff's office is just starting to work through the expenses" with respect to each department of the county government.

In July and August, there were 11 autopsies in county compared to five for the same two months in 2018, the report states.

Stratmoen concluded with "I don't see any cause for budgetary concern at this point as these things ebb and flow in numbers over the year -- this fiscal year is just not beginning well."

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