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Coroner: Workload increased by 122 cases in 2020

The Warren County Coroner’s Office saw a significant jump in its caseload in 2020.

The annual report from Warren County Coroner Kevin Kirby said his office, consisting of Kirby and five deputy coroners, worked 932 cases last year, an increase of 122 over the 2019 caseload.

Much of the jump can be attributed to the number of cremation permits signed by the coroner’s office, which totaled 526 last year, compared to 410 in 2019.

The coroner’s office was also involved in the investigation of 360 deaths by natural causes last year, an increase from 324 the previous year.

Warren County has not been spared the deadly toll of the COVID-19 pandemic, with 84 deaths recorded in the county as of Thursday.

No COVID-19 deaths show up in the coroner’s annual report, though, due to those deaths occurring primarily in hospital settings and attended on an inpatient basis.

While it may not show up in the records, the pandemic has affected how Kirby’s office approaches death investigations.

“It’s a big question mark when we go on a lot of these calls,” Kirby said. “We take the universal precautions to protect our staff, EMS and police agencies. ... One of our runners and a deputy tested positive, but we are fortunate that they’re now doing well and have no problems.”

Kirby said vehicles and equipment are regularly sanitized and deputies wear personal protective equipment on each call.

The 932 cases worked in 2020 were the most by the coroner’s office in recent years, and Kirby said population growth partially factors into the increase.

The pandemic appears to have contributed to the rise in cremations as well, Kirby said.

“I see people not being able to have funeral services as a contributing factor to the changing rate,” Kirby said. “We live in a more mobile society, and it’s easier for people to take those urns with them.”

The number of homicides in 2020 doubled over the previous year, from five to 10, while deaths from overdoses decreased, from 20 in 2019 to 15 last year.

“I hope that people have families and friends that have maybe reached out and helped these people,” Kirby said about the decline in overdose deaths. “There are more options out there for people to get help.”

Suicides in the county increased for the second consecutive year, reaching 25 in 2020, compared to 21 in 2019 and 19 in 2018.

Data recently released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed a 2.1% decrease in the U.S. suicide rate in 2019, the first decrease in two decades.

The CDC data brief, documenting mortality in the U.S., showed suicide was the 10th-leading cause of death in the nation, with suicides occurring at a rate of 13.9 per 100,000 people, down from 14.2 in 2018.

Mark Saderholm, director of service centers at LifeSkills, said the pandemic has introduced new challenges in providing care to people to prevent suicide, while also highlighting existing challenges.

“We know that this is a crisis that has been burgeoning across the country for quite a long time,” Saderholm said of what had been a growing suicide rate. “The pandemic, like everything else has affected this particular issue as well.”

Saderholm, a counselor and suicide assessment trainer, said data has shown an increased rate in suicides among middle-aged White men.

“We know that suicide is a response to psychological pain,” Saderholm said. “Loneliness, disconnection, a sense of loss ... loss of self-respect is typically a triggering factor that has been discovered in folks experiencing suicidality, and a lot of these factors are operating in this population.”

The pandemic has heightened concerns about disconnection from others and other circumstances that can adversely affect mental health.

Counselors at LifeSkills have taken to seeing patients via telehealth sessions, which Saderholm said helps eliminate barriers to accessing health care by putting clients in touch with caretakers immediately.

Stefany Vaughn Mack, a dual diagnosis therapist with LifeSkills, said it has been crucial during the pandemic to foster connections with clients when the environment requires that it be done over a screen, where Mack said clients sometimes struggle to connect emotionally and risk “Zoom burnout.”

“A lot of times we have clients say, ‘I can’t wait to see you in your office again,’ ” Mack said. “Having that space to come unload in that room means something.”

Even with the changing environment brought on by the pandemic, Mack said one of the most significant challenges experienced by people struggling with their mental health is taking the first step to get help.

“The first time someone seeks help is the most challenging,” Mack said. “I like to tell people this is a judgment-free zone, this is what you come to when you’ve done all you can do, and it’s our job to help guide you through the rest.”

A total of 38 autopsies were performed last year, according to the coroner’s report.

Other deaths recorded last year by the coroner’s office include 13 deaths in auto crashes, four undetermined, four pending autopsy/toxicology results, three deaths in motorcycle/ATV accidents, three accidental falls, one SIDS/fetal death and one farm accident.

- The LifeSkills 24-hour Crisis Line can be reached at 270-843-4357 or 800-223-8913. To reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, call 800-273-8255 or text HELLO to 741741.

City buys, plans to demolish club for park expansion

The city of Bowling Green is now the owner of the former Tattle Tails Gentleman’s Club at 1316 River St. and plans to demolish it to make way for a park expansion.

Brent Childers, head of the city’s Neighborhood and Community Services department, said the city began eyeing the property “several years ago when we started the process to develop the riverfront.”

The city is looking to develop now-vacant land along the Barren River into a multi-use “outdoor adventure area” with fishing piers, a new boat ramp, disc golf course, rock climbing wall and other amenities.

For the project, the city “needs an entrance and road frontage,” Childers said.

After getting an appraisal and negotiations, the city settled on a purchase price of $210,500 with the property owners, Golden Flower LLC. The deal closed Friday.

The city plans to start demolition of the structure and eventually incorporate it into the planned new park.

Childers said after required testing of the site, the city will start demolition “as quick as we can.”

While the establishment has been closed since 2019, city officials have previously discussed the business as being a site of frequent police calls.

As recently as 2017, thieves broke into the club and stole cash from the office safe.

“We broached it (to the city commission) early in 2019 about the opportunity to buy it,” City Manager Jeff Meisel said.

The city has also bought an adjoining parcel of land that once housed a veterinarian clinic, which has since been torn down to be eventually used as part of the park, Childers said.

In 2019, the city received a National Park Service Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership program grant for $750,000 toward a series of projects along the Barren River across from RiverWalk Park.

“We don’t have a finalized plan” for the park yet, Meisel said last week.

“I think it’s a win-win,” Meisel said of the purchase and demolition of the Tattle Tails building. Not only for public safety, he said, but because older buildings in the city can be susceptible to fires, as shown last week when the nearby Eagle Furniture Manufacturing building at 1491 River St. was hit by a massive blaze.

“It’s almost impossible to get around and inspect every piece of private property,” Meisel said.

Beshear: Latest virus surge 'at least twice the rate' of previous surges

On the same day the country topped 4,000 daily coronavirus deaths for the first time, Gov. Andy Beshear said Kentucky had reached a “tough point once again in our war against COVID-19,” announcing the third-highest case total he’s ever reported.

“We have successfully stopped three waves of this virus, but we are now seeing a real and significant increase in cases and our positivity rate from people’s gatherings around the holidays,” Beshear said, adding that any Kentuckians who gathered with people outside their household over the holidays must get tested.

Speaking at a news conference Friday, Beshear reported 4,750 new virus cases in the commonwealth. On Thursday, Beshear announced nearly 5,000 new COVID-19 cases in Kentucky’s second-highest daily report – Wednesday’s report was the highest-ever at 5,742 new cases – and the state’s highest positivity rate since May 5, per a governor’s office news release.

On Friday, Beshear also reported 13 additional deaths from the virus, bringing the state’s death toll to 2,856 since the pandemic began. The state’s positivity crept up to 11.91%.

Beshear took the opportunity to review a new White House report, which warned that the current fall/winter surge is “at least twice the rate, the seriousness, of the previous surges that we have seen,” Beshear said.

“This is our most dangerous time,” Beshear said. “Please, please take care of yourself … and do not go out unmasked.”

Citing the White House’s report, Beshear also warned that “the acceleration we are seeing across the country may well be a U.S. variant that has evolved here, somewhat like the one that you are hearing about in the U.K., which may be 50% more transmissible.

“In other words, we are not only in a dangerous time for the amount of virus out there, but the virus may be more dangerous in terms of its spread than ever before,” Beshear said. “While that might not mean that any one case is more serious, if there are that many more cases, and we lose 1% of the people that get infected, we will see more death and more devastation.”

Beshear cited the White House’s recommendations for “aggressive mitigation,” specifically his actions related to a mask mandate and strict social distancing. The state is also setting up “high throughput vaccination sites,” consistent with those recommendations.

“We are working on this right now – I believe Louisville is beta testing one at the moment – where we can get thousands of people through every day,” Beshear said. “(The White House) also is concerned about vaccine hesitancy. It’s real. We’re seeing it in some of the staff members in long-term care …

“It’s safe,” Beshear said, who has publicly received the vaccine. “More than that, I’m willing to have my family vaccinated. My wife, Britainy, has taken it.”

Beshear pointed to several metrics – including that Kentucky ranks just 41st nationally in new virus deaths – as signs that what the state is doing is working.

“In one of the most unhealthy states in the country, we’re 41st in new deaths,” Beshear, “It’s paying off in less death to our people.” That said, Beshear warned that Kentucky’s test positivity rate is significantly up – as of Friday the 19th highest in the country.

“That should set off alarms with all of us,” Beshear said.

Vaccinations in Kentucky sharply increased over the course of last week, climbing to more than 100,000 doses administered, as of Friday, since about 60,000 on Monday.

A map of locations where health care personnel can receive the coronavirus vaccine was live on a state website Friday.

Top Republican says Trump committed 'impeachable offenses'

WASHINGTON – Democrats’ momentum for a fresh drive to quickly impeach outgoing President Donald Trump gained support Saturday, and a top Republican said the president’s role in the deadly riot at the Capitol by a violent mob of Trump supporters was worthy of rebuke.

Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., said he believed Trump had committed “impeachable offenses.” But he stopped short of saying whether he would vote to remove the president from office at the conclusion of a Senate trial if the House sent over articles of impeachment.

“I don’t know what they are going to send over and one of the things that I’m concerned about, frankly, is whether the House would completely politicize something,” Toomey said Saturday on Fox News Channel, speaking of the Democratic-controlled House.

“I do think the president committed impeachable offenses, but I don’t know what is going to land on the Senate floor, if anything,” Toomey said.

The new Democratic effort to stamp Trump’s presidential record – for the second time and days before his term ends – with the indelible mark of impeachment gained momentum Saturday.

Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I, a leader of the House effort to draft impeachment articles – or charges – accusing Trump of inciting insurrection, said his group had grown to include 185 co-sponsors.

Lawmakers plan to formally introduce the proposal Monday in the House, where articles of impeachment must originate. A vote could be possible by Wednesday – exactly one week before Democrat Joe Biden becomes president at noon Jan. 20.

The articles, if passed by the House, could then be transmitted to the Senate for a trial, with senators acting as jurors who would ultimately vote on whether to acquit or convict Trump. If convicted, Trump would be removed from office and succeeded by the vice president.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, however, shared no details about her party’s plans as she addressed her hometown San Francisco constituents during an online video conference on Saturday.

“Justice will be done. Democracy will prevail. And America will be healed,” she said. “But it is a decision that we have to make.”

A violent and largely white mob of Trump supporters overpowered police, broke through security lines and rampaged through the Capitol on Wednesday, forcing lawmakers to scatter as they were putting the final, formal touches on Biden’s victory over Trump in the Electoral College.

The crowd surged to the domed symbol of American democracy following a rally near the White House, where Trump repeated his bogus claims that the election was stolen from him and urged his supporters to march in force toward the Capitol.

Five people, including a Capitol police officer, died as a result of the siege.

“It has been an epiphany for the world to see that there are people in our country led by this president, for the moment, who have chosen their whiteness over democracy,” Pelosi said of the attack.

She added: “This cannot be exaggerated. The complicity, not only the complicity, the instigation of the president of United States, must and will be addressed.”

No. 4 House Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York reiterated support for moving against what he deemed “an act of sedition that was incited and encouraged by Donald Trump.”

Speaking of Trump, Jeffries said Saturday: “He should be impeached, convicted and thrown out of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and forever banished to the dustbin of history.”

Outrage over the attack and Trump’s role in egging it on capped a divisive, chaotic presidency like few others in the nation’s history. There are less than two weeks until Trump is out of office but Democrats have made clear they don’t want to wait that long.

Trump, meanwhile, has few fellow Republicans speaking out in his defense. He’s become increasingly isolated, holed up in the White House as he has been abandoned in the aftermath of the riot by many aides, leading Republicans and, so far, two Cabinet members – both women.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who has long voiced her exasperation with Trump’s conduct in office, told the Anchorage Daily News on Friday that he simply “needs to get out.”

Sen. Ben Sasse, another Trump critic, said more important than what happens to Trump “is what happens to the United States people and this union 12 days and beyond.”

But the Nebraska Republican also told “CBS This Morning” on Friday that he “will definitely consider” whatever articles the House sends over because he believes Trump “has disregarded his oath of office” to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution.

Biden, meanwhile, reiterated that he has long viewed Trump as unfit for office. But on Friday he sidestepped a question about impeachment, saying what Congress does “is for them to decide.”

After spending many weeks refusing to concede defeat in the November election, Trump promised – after the Capitol riot – to oversee a smooth transfer of power to Biden. He called for reconciliation and healing, but then announced he will not attend the inauguration – the first such presidential snub since just after the Civil War.

Superville reported from Wilmington, Delaware. Associated Press writers Alexandra Jaffe, Lisa Mascaro, Mary Clare Jalonick and Zeke Miller contributed to this report.