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.

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

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