Santa Barbara County was the site of more suicides last year than anytime since 1990, when the current record-keeping system first went into effect. Sixty people took their own lives in 2009, up from 34 the year before and 24 the year before that. Most of the suicides were caused by depression followed by chronic health problems, said Sgt. Gregg Weitzman of the Coroner’s office. Depression was cited in cases where the victims had established medical or psychiatric histories. In a handful of cases, Weitzman said, financial loss was the motive. “But we’re talking lots of money here, tens of millions of dollars,” he said. He took exception to reports circulating earlier this year about a possible cluster of teen suicides involving Latino males with some gang affiliation. Weitzman said the victims did not know each other, were not connected, and all had unique life trajectories that propelled them to take their own lives. While suicides are up most dramatically, Weitzman said, the number of natural deaths also increased sharply from 2008 to 2009, from 388 to 469. “Countywide, we’re getting older,” he said.
The Coroner’s office has gotten substantially busier, but with no increase in staff. The number of cases requiring investigations jumped from 600 to 707, and the number of autopsies performed increased from 101 to 119. Accidental deaths, often hard to determine, were also on the rise. Every year, a handful of individuals are killed on the train tracks by oncoming trains. How many are suicides? Trains are equipped with video cameras, it turns out, to help answer this question. Weitzman said if the victim gives any indication that they were aware the train was coming, the death is ruled a suicide. If not, it’s ruled an accident. Homeless deaths, Weitzman said, are far more labor intensive than others, he said, because it often requires extensive legwork to determine the deceased’s identity and even more to track down next of kin.