SAN DIEGO — The number of traffic deaths in San Diego County rose nearly 18 percent in 2014, compared to the previous year, the San Diego County Medical Examiner’s Office reported Thursday.
Motor vehicle-related fatalities accounted for 291 cases thoroughly investigated by the medical examiner’s office last year, compared to 247 in 2013, according to an annual report by the office describing the cases it investigates.
Pedestrian accidents accounted for 88 of those deaths, up 37.5 percent from 64 fatalities in 2013. Two of last year’s pedestrian fatalities were ruled homicides and three deemed suicides, according to the report. Those who lost their lives to automobile-related causes in 2014 included 70 motorists, 57 motorcyclists and 10 bicyclists.
Almost half the pedestrians killed in accidents last year and who were tested for impairment turned out to have been under the influence of alcohol or illicit drugs — most commonly marijuana or methamphetamine — at the time of their deaths. Many were killed while running across freeways at night, Chief Deputy Medical Examiner Jonathan Lucas said.
Of the 2,972 deaths thoroughly investigated by the agency in 2014, the largest category — 1,390, or 47 percent — were determined to have been accidental. A total of 1,022, or 34 percent, were ruled natural deaths.
Another 420 cases (14 percent) were suicides and 99 cases (3.3 percent) proved to be homicides. In 41 cases (1.4 percent), the medical examiner’s office could not determine the cause of death.
Among the accidental fatalities, 481 involved illicit drugs, legal medications or alcohol, and 291 were related to automobiles, according to the annual survey.
“This sampling is a reflection of the health of the community as a whole,” Lucas said. “The report becomes a starting point for all types of other discussions, whether it’s issues of health or public safety.”
Among the drug deaths, methamphetamine was the main cause, leading to 169 fatalities — even though its involvement dropped from the previous year’s 190 cases. Alcohol abuse was next, being blamed in 133 instances.
Heroin, which resulted in 105 deaths in 2014, has had an increased role in local mortality over the past nine years, and its involvement has more than doubled since 2007, the report noted. Additionally, there were 71 Oxycodone- related deaths last year, up from 49 in 2013.
The number of suicides, while higher than the national or statewide averages, was down slightly last year: 420 cases in 2014, compared to 441 in 2013. As in previous years, the highest rates of suicide in 2014 were among men older than 85.
Annually, nearly half of the 19,000 to 21,000 deaths recorded in San Diego County are reported to the medical examiner, according to the report. While most are determined in initial reviews to have been unexpected natural deaths, others require in-depth investigations to determine the cause of death.