One of the more unpleasant rituals the Wright County Board of Commissioners undertakes every year is to accept the annual Medical Examiner’s Report, which details all deaths that occurred in the county over the course of the previous year.
Dr. A. Quinn Strobl, chief medical examiner with the Midwest Medical Examiner’s Office in Ramsey, presented the report to the county board at its Feb. 11 workshop and some of the numbers she relayed were disturbing.
“Wright County had a busier year in 2019, unfortunately,” Strobl said. “Last year, we had 603 total deaths reported to our office, which was up from the preceding year. We performed 56 autopsies, which is up from 33 in 2018. That was a big jump.”
Strobl then began listing the manner and causes of deaths in Wright County. Four people died as the result of motor vehicle accidents, ranging in age from 17 to 70 and included a bicyclist and a farm machinery incident. There were 12 autopsies performed on individuals deemed to have died of natural causes with an age of range of 25 to 49, which Strobl said was “very young” compared to what is typically seen. Eight of the 12 were the result of cardiovascular disease.
One of the more troubling aspects of the death listings came in the form of non-motor vehicle-related accidental deaths. Over the previous four years, deaths in that category totaled 19, 17, 19 and 21. The number skyrocketed in 2019.
“The sad part was that we had 37 deaths in the county that were non-motor vehicle-related accidents,” Strobl said. “Twelve of those were directly related to substance abuse, compared to six in 2018. They ranged in age from 25 to 68.”
Of the 12 substance abuse-related deaths, six involved Fentanyl, six included methamphetamine, four included Acetyl Fentanyl, three involved heroin, two were related to alcohol and one was attributed to prescription medication. In some cases, more the one drug was found in the system of a victim at the time of death.
Three infants died of asphyxia due to unsafe sleeping conditions. There were three drownings in 2019 – all men and all involving alcohol. Fifteen people died from complications from falls. There was one homicide listed – a 12-month old female who died in an intentionally set house fire – even though the incident happened in Sherburne County.
As always, one of the more painful portions of Strobl’s annual roll call of death came when the discussion turned to suicide. There were 17 suicides in Wright County in 2019, a figure consistent with the four previous years (17, 18, 17, 13) with an age range of 35 to 89. Of those 17 deaths, 12 of them were men and 11 of them were from gunshot wounds. If there was a positive among the sad news being relayed, it was that there were no teen suicides in Wright County during 2019. Strobl cautioned that teen suicide rates remain a constant issue throughout the country.
“Kids have extreme reactions and they can be very impulsive,” Strobl said. “Some kids may have chronic depression and it’s an extreme tragedy that they decide this. With a lot of the teenagers, it’s just an impulse. They have a horrible day or get in a fight or they have a breakup. You wish you grab them at the moment and say, ‘You’re not even remember this girl’s name 10 years from now.’ It’s about education and parents talking to their kids.”
While the news Strobl brings is often unsettling – the 603 deaths in Wright County in 2019 is a record high number for a single year – the data gleaned from the numbers is often an indicator of underlying problems that get addressed, whether it be homicide numbers, motor vehicle deaths or suicides. It may not be pleasant, but it is valuable information that is used by several different agencies to determine what caused numbers to spike or decline over time.
Wright County is one of 19 counties in Minnesota that uses Midwest Medical Examiner’s Office to serve as its county coroner.