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Coroner: Tornado, overdoses drive record caseload

The Warren County Coroner’s Office worked its largest caseload to date last year, totaling 1,085 deaths, spurred in part by a doubling in overdoses from 2020 and the devastating December tornadoes that represented the deadliest known natural disaster in the county’s history.

The 1,085 deaths investigated last year represents a 16.4% increase in caseload over the 932 deaths handled in 2020, which itself was a significant jump from the 810 deaths the coroner’s office worked in 2019.

Warren County Coroner Kevin Kirby, whose office has five deputy coroners, said population growth factors into the increased overall workload as well.

“We were able to handle everything that was brought in front of us,” Kirby said.

Coroners are typically called when a death occurs at some place other than a hospital.

As in previous years, the majority of the caseload for the coroner’s office in 2021 involved signing cremation permits.

A total of 603 cremation permits were signed last year.

Under state law, the cremation or transportation of a body cannot occur without a permit from the coroner in the county in which the death occurred.

The permit states the cause of death, and Kirby said such permits are important in ensuring that an investigation considers all potential causes of death before the body is cremated.

The coroner’s report lists 15 deaths from the tornadoes that struck Warren County in the early morning hours Dec. 11.

The storm killed seven members of one family and five members of another.

Kirby said ongoing training from the state in dealing with mass casualty events was crucial in the response to the disaster, enabling staff to get to sites quickly and help victims’ families.

“We hate to have things like that happen, but it did,” Kirby said. “I am so proud of my staff and how it was handled. From when we knew we had deaths, we formulated a plan on how we were going to work this, and it all falls back to the training we’ve had over the years. ... I’m very blessed to have the vehicles and equipment we need, so that we had the capability of handling more than one or two (deaths).”

Response efforts from the coroner’s office were matched by first responders from other agencies.

“I’m proud of the team in Bowling Green, the police departments and everybody that worked this incident, how well it was worked by all agencies in this community,” Kirby said.

Kirby said a troubling statistic in the coroner’s report was the 30 overdoses in 2021, a doubling of the 15 overdoses his office investigated in 2020.

The coroner said a possible factor in the jump in overdoses could be a greater supply of fentanyl in illicit drugs.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid many times stronger than morphine, and local law enforcement has investigated several drug cases in which fentanyl has been mixed with other drugs, perhaps unknowingly to the user.

“Somebody could buy something on the street thinking it’s Xanax and it’s made in a pill mill somewhere and it’s got fentanyl in it,” Kirby said. “It doesn’t take but just a little bit of fentanyl to kill you ... it would not surprise me that the overdoses are not a little bit higher than what we have.”

Seven deaths listed in the coroner’s report are pending autopsy or toxicology results.

Suicides decreased last year to 13 from 25 in 2020, a development that Kirby said was encouraging.

Other statistics from the report include:

  • 377 natural deaths.
  • 61 autopsies performed.
  • 13 deaths from auto crashes.
  • nine homicides.
  • eight motorcycle/ATV accidents.
  • three fire fatalities.
  • two drownings, two SIDS/fetal deaths and two deaths with undetermined causes.
  • one choking death.

– Follow courts reporter Justin Story on Twitter @jstorydailynews or visit bgdailynews.com.


News
Former Judy's Castle building being demolished

A long-standing restaurant building on U.S. 31-W By-Pass damaged by the Dec. 11 tornado may soon make way for a new commercial development.

Demolition of the Judy’s Castle building at the bypass and East 13th Avenue began Wednesday, and the property’s owner said he plans to build a BP gas station and convenience store on the site.

“Part of the building was damaged, and the city declared it unsafe,” said Satish Patel, owner of the Radha Krishna BG corporation that purchased the Judy’s Castle property last July. “We decided to demolish it.”

Patel purchased from local real estate investor Jim “Ebo” Brown the former restaurant building and an adjacent building that had been used as office space.

Brown bought the property at auction in 2018 with a bid of $267,500 ($286,225 with the buyers’ fee). It had been operated as the homestyle Judy’s Castle restaurant for 24 years by Paul and Felecia Durbin.

The Durbins bought the restaurant from Herb and Maxine Lowe, who first opened it in 1968.

The restaurant developed a following over the years, with locals coming out for the breakfast specials, “meat and three” lunch and dinner meals, and desserts.

But when Brown bought Judy’s Castle at auction, it was nearly certain that it signaled the end of any type of eatery on the property.

“I’m not in the restaurant business,” Brown said at the time of the auction.

As the building was being knocked down Wednesday, even its new owner expressed some nostalgia for the restaurant.

“A lot of people have memories of the restaurant,” said Patel, who also owns the Grease Monkey oil change business at 1200 Broadway Ave. “It was there for 50 years.”

That history, though, hasn’t changed Patel’s plans for the property.

Warren County clerk records show Patel’s corporation purchased the property for $375,000.

He said after the purchase that he intended to build a gas station on the corner lot.

Those plans still haven’t fully taken shape, but Patel said Wednesday that he has hired an engineer and will soon be hiring a contractor to build the store and BP-branded gas station.

“It’s a process that will take several months,” he said.


Politics
AP
Biden decries Trump backers' 'dagger at throat' of democracy

WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden accused Donald Trump and his supporters of holding a “dagger at the throat of democracy” in a speech Thursday marking the anniversary of the deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol.

He warned that though it didn’t succeed, the event remains a serious threat to America’s system of government.

Biden’s criticism was blistering of the defeated president whom he blamed for the attack that fundamentally changed Congress and the nation and raised global concerns about the future of American democracy.

“For the first time in our history, a president not just lost an election, he tried to prevent the peaceful transfer of power as a violent mob breached the Capitol,” Biden said. “You can’t love your country only when you win.”

His voice booming at times, the president called on Americans to remember what they saw Jan. 6 with their own eyes: the mob attacking police, breaking windows, a Confederate flag inside the Capitol, gallows erected outside threatening to hang the vice president – all while Trump sat at the White House watching it on TV.

“The former president’s supporters are trying to rewrite history. They want you to see Election Day as the day of insurrection and the riot that took place here on Jan. 6 as a true expression of the will of the people. Can you think of a more twisted way to look at this country, to look at America? I cannot.”

The president’s speech launched the start of daylong remembrance, drawing a contrast between the truth of what happened and the false narratives that persist about the Capitol assault, including the continued refusal by many Republicans to affirm that Biden won the 2020 election.

“We must be absolutely clear about what is true and what is a lie,” Biden said. “The former president of the United States of America has spread a web of lies about the 2020 election. ...

“We are in a battle for the soul of America.”

“I did not seek this fight, brought to this Capitol one year from today. But I will not shrink from it either. I will stand in this breach, I will defend this nation. I will allow no one to place a dagger at the throat of this democracy.”

Republican leaders and lawmakers largely stayed away from the day’s events, dismissing them as overly politicized.

From Florida, Trump showed no signs of letting go, and in fact revived his attack on the elections. He accepted no responsibility for egging on the crowd that day. Instead, in one of several statements Thursday, he said Biden was trying to “further divide America. This political theater is all just a distraction.”

Even among congressional Republicans who condemned the attack in the days afterward, most have stayed loyal to the former president.

“What brazen politicization of January 6 by President Biden,” tweeted Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. Others, including Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, were absent, with a contingent attending the funeral for a former colleague Sen. Johnny Isakson in Georgia.

Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Matt Gaetz stood by their refusal to certify Biden’s election that day. “We’re ashamed of nothing,” Gaetz said.

The division was a stark reminder of the rupture between the two parties, worsening since hundreds of Trump’s supporters pushed past police, used their fists and flagpoles to break through the windows of the Capitol and interrupted the certification of Biden’s victory.

Rep. Liz Cheney, a Trump critic and one of the few GOP lawmakers attending the Capitol ceremonies, warned that “the threat continues.” Trump, she said, “continues to make the same claims that he knows caused violence on Jan. 6.”

“Unfortunately, too many in my own party are embracing the former president, are looking the other way or minimizing the danger,” she told NBC’s “Today.” “That’s how democracies die. We simply cannot let that happen.”

She was joined by her father, Dick Cheney, the former vice president, who was greeted warmly by several Democrats. He stood with her, the only Republicans seen, for a moment of silence on the House floor.

He said in a statement: “I am deeply disappointed at the failure of many members of my party to recognize the grave nature of the Jan. 6 attacks and the ongoing threat to our nation.”

The Senate also convened a moment of silence.

Democrats investigating the insurrection plan to spend the coming months telling the American people exactly what happened last Jan. 6 with a series of public hearings.

Biden and his administration have come under criticism from some in his party for not forcibly explaining to Americans the ways democracy is at risk, or pushing Congress hard enough to pass election and voting rights legislation that is stalled by a filibuster in the Senate.

Barack Obama, the former president, said “nothing is more important” on the anniversary than ensuring the right to vote.

“While the broken windows have been repaired and many of the rioters have been brought to justice, the truth is that our democracy is at greater risk today than it was back then,” Obama said in a statement.

Biden’s address, and that of Vice President Kamala Harris who is leading the administration’s efforts on the voting and elections legislation, appeared as a direct response to critics.

“We must pass voting rights bills,” said Harris, addressing those gathered. “We cannot sit on the sidelines. We must unite in defense of our democracy.”

On the House floor, where many members were evacuated and some were trapped as the rioters tried to break in, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi drew on history with a hope that Americans would turn to their “better angels” to resolve differences.

She delivered private remarks to Hill staff who, as she told The Associated Press in an interview Wednesday, had stayed a year ago to “protect our democracy.”

Biden’s sharp message and the Republicans’ distance from it come as lawmakers are adjusting to the new normal on Capitol Hill – the growing tensions that many worry will result in more violence or, someday, a legitimate election being overturned.

Democrats and a handful of Republicans feel a desperate urgency to connect to a public in which some have come to believe Trump’s lies that the election was stolen from him and that the attack wasn’t violent at all.

A new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research showed that 3 in 10 Republicans say the attack was not violent, and about another 3 in 10 say it was somewhat violent. Around two-thirds of Americans described the day as very or extremely violent, including about 9 in 10 Democrats.

As Biden directed blame toward the former president, the percentage of Americans who blame Trump for the Jan. 6 riot has grown slightly over the past year, with 57% saying he bears significant responsibility for what took place.

In an AP-NORC poll taken in the days after the attack, 50% said that.

Trump’s claims of widespread election fraud were rejected by the courts and refuted by his own Justice Department.

An investigation by the AP found fewer than 475 cases of voter fraud among 25.5 million ballots cast in the six battleground states disputed by Trump.


News
Disaster center in need of more volunteers

Even as the BGStrong Disaster Recovery Center at the former Sears location in Greenwood Mall sat closed Thursday amid the winter storm, officials are seeking more volunteers when the site reopens.

In particular, those with experience in social services and dealing with people who recently experienced serious trauma are needed most at this time.

City of Bowling Green Public Information Officer Debi Highland West said the center desperately needs volunteers in this area because of high level of need.

“We need social workers, counselors and other such individuals who are willing to help out their fellow citizens during this time of extreme need,” she said. “We did see a significant drop-off in volunteers when people went back to work and school after the holidays.”

West said the city is looking for people who can work at the center for the “long haul” (two to three months) because of the changing needs of those most affected by the tornadoes.

To help better coordinate efforts, she said the city recently hired Marieca Brown as the center’s volunteer coordinator.

Brown has lived in Bowling Green for 35 years and is a retired Bowling Green Police Department officer who has experience working in volunteer and disaster relief capacities.

“Things were so busy out here and they needed some help,” Brown said. “I’m here full-time, temporarily for at least the next three months. It has been amazing to see how quickly things have came together. Living Hope Baptist Church did a great job getting things together at first. It’s mind-blowing how we have gotten to this stage.”

She said while social service volunteers are needed, officials at the center are also asking for large equipment because many in the community have reported large trees still down throughout the area.

Volunteers who can assist with intake, stocking supplies and data entry/filing are also being asked to help.

“We are looking at having this center open possibly for three to six months because we will see people repeatedly come back,” Brown said. “Many are displaced and are living in a hotel. As they transition back, they will need to restock their houses.”

She said social service volunteers need to be prepared and equipped to hearing “heartbreaking stories” daily.

“There are people with PTSD from this who just need to talk,” Brown said. “Even some of the volunteers here have been traumatized. The people of Bowling Green have been so gracious. We will take volunteers as long as there are needs that need to be met.”

Anyone wanting to volunteer at the center is asked to park in the small parking lot at the rear of the old Sears site before walking in.

– More information on how to help can be found at www.wearebgstrong.com/volunteers/.

– Follow reporter John Reecer on Twitter @JReecerBGDN or visit bgdailynews.com.


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