County's suicides at an alarming pace in '09

Jackson County could set a grim mark this year if the current suicide rate continues through the remainder of 2009.

So far this year, the Jackson County Medical Examiners Office has investigated 48 suicides. The previous high was 51 in 2007, according to Deputy Medical Examiner Tim Pike.

"And we still have two and a half months to go," Pike said. "That's not a number you like to see."

A report issued last week by the medical examiner's office shows suicides this year are up dramatically from 2008, when 38 people took their own lives. Of those, 26 were men and 12 were women.

There were 68 accidental deaths in 2008, and nearly half of those were related to motor vehicle accidents.

"We've been in the low 30s in car crash deaths for some time," Pike said. "This will be another low year for a number of reasons, including the number of drivers on the road is down because of the recession."

Seventeen people died of drug overdose in 2008, similar to the number in recent years.

Police have cited hard economic times as a contributing factor to the spike in suicides, though their evidence is anecdotal.

"I'd say that there have been a few suicides I've investigated this year that I know for sure are related to the hard times," Pike said. "Overall it's difficult to determine why someone chooses to take their own life."

Suicides notoriously are difficult to investigate, Pike said.

"Often it doesn't look at first like suicide when you come upon a scene," Pike said. "It takes a lot of investigation to determine what really happened at a death scene."

Detectives treat suicides as homicides until the manner of death is determined.

"You don't want to rule something a suicide and later find out that the death was caused by homicidal violence," Pike said. "You only get one chance to investigate a scene."

Pike said police are being called to more suicide interventions, too.

"That is a nightly occurrence," Pike said. "Those are often some of the most dangerous calls."

Officers are facing more people armed with guns and knives when they respond to suicide calls. Even though the situation might be a person's cry for help, it could turn dangerous for officers at any minute, Pike said.

He said he expects calls about attempted suicides to increase as the holiday season approaches, although the number of completed suicides usually doesn't grow appreciably during the holidays.

The sharp increase in suicide has the Jackson County Sheriff's Office concerned with how to combat the problem, Pike said.

"You can't lower the number of suicides by using more police," he said. "You have to go into schools and speak to young people and keep in contact with county mental health officials. Hopefully, you can help someone before they reach the point of considering taking their own life."

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 776-4471 or e-mail

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