El Paso County homicides, traffic deaths, and overdose deaths increase in 2020

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COLORADO SPRINGS — On top of the more than 800 people killed by COVID-19, 2020 brought more tragedy on the roads and in homes, according to El Paso County Coroner and Chief Medical Examiner, Dr. Leon Kelly.

Kelly says the most striking area is the drastic increase in drug overdose deaths, a 43% increase from the year before, totaling 186 lives lost.

Kelly found that Fentanyl compounds and heroine are the leading causes of these deaths, though other illicit drugs are still a large factor. Deaths from Fentanyl compounds more than doubled from 2019 to 2020.

“When you have fentanyl in your drug supply, every time a user uses, you’re dramatically increasing the risk that that’s the last time,” according to Kelly.

Kelly called for more treatment and recovery programs as well as support for law enforcement in order to get these kinds of drugs off the street.

Despite a couple of months of decreased traffic at the beginning of the pandemic, there was a 22% increase in traffic deaths in El Paso County, leading to 78 people killed.

Kelly’s report shows the majority, 67%, were the result of driver error, followed by reckless driving. Distracted driving was even further down the list.

29 traffic deaths were motorcyclists, and Kelly found 23 of those were the motorcyclist’s fault, including 19 riders who were under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

“My hope is that we can continue to allow people to live their lives, but let’s just do it a little bit smarter than what we’re doing sometimes,” Kelly said.

2019 brought a down year for homicides, Kelly says, but 2020 returned to more of a statistically normal year, with 55 people falling victim to homicides.

The report shows 52% of victims knew their suspected killer and far more homicides from domestic and family situations as well–over 37% of all homicides.

Kelly says he and people in the criminal justice system are likely not surprised by this but hopes it’s something the community becomes more aware of, as he sees a common theme with many of the ways in which people died in 2020.

“There’s a common thread there. And that common thread we also see in our suicides I just talked about, we also see it in our substance abuse, which is, generally, young adult or young, middle-aged males who, for whatever reason, for a multitude of reasons, don’t have the emotionally, psychological, intellectual ability to cope to deal, to properly compensate for what essentially is the normal stresses of life. And we saw that play out last week,” he said. “And so if we want to look at what we’re going to do about it, we have to start there. We talk about our suicide prevention; we’re never going to remove the stresses of life. We’re going to remove every barrier to success, and we’re never going to take young people and turn them into adults and never have them encounter something difficult. Hello, COVID, right? What it’s about is providing them the tools from the day they’re born to deal with those things, and that’s where we’re failing to be honest with you. That’s where these issues are coming from.”

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