Franklin County is com­ing off a vi­o­lent 2018

Tri-City Herald (Sunday) - - News - BY CAMERON PROBERT [email protected]­i­ty­her­ald.com Michelle Hud­nall Cameron Probert: 509-582-1402, @cameron­cprobert

PASCO, WA

Franklin County is com­ing off one of its more vi­o­lent years in re­cent mem­ory.

The coro­ner’s of­fice confirmed six homi­cides in 2018, af­ter just one in 2017.

The ru­ral, largely agri­cul­tural county saw two shoot­ings, two stab­bings, a stran­gu­la­tion and a fa­tal hit-and-run among the 257 cases re­ported to the coro­ner.

Valen­tine’s Day saw the county’s first mur­der, when Hec­tor Orozco Jr. al­legedly beat and stabbed Demetrius A. Graves, 39, in the street near a down­town al­ley.

As he was flee­ing, he bru­tally killed 82-year-old Bon­nie Ross in­side her West Wash­ing­ton Street home, ac­cord­ing to court records. Po­lice found him at the Rode­way Inn driv­ing her car.

The first shoot­ing hap­pened June 3, when Vic­tor A. Pa­ni­agua, 27, shot Abel Yanez Con­tr­eras in the chest af­ter an ar­gu­ment about not want­ing the other man’s help.

A jury found Pa­ni­agua guilty of sec­ond-de­gree mur­der in late fall. He is serv­ing a 37-year sen­tence for killing the fa­ther of six.

In early July, the body of Michelle Hud­nall was dis­cov­ered by peo­ple vis­it­ing Car­body Beach in Franklin County. In­ves­ti­ga­tors be­lieve Florentino Jai Castillo and Benny Ro­driguez Lozano stran­gled the mother of four on May 14. With the al­leged help of Guadalupe A. Sanchez, they dumped per body at the beach.

Then in Novem­ber, Martin Perez Gar­cia, 27, was walk­ing home when a per­son driv­ing a SUV hit and killed him. He was found be­tween the north­bound ramp of High­way 395 and the west­bound ramp from In­ter­state 182. The driver of Chevy Blazer has not been found.

The last homi­cide hap­pened in De­cem­ber when An­thony D. Hamil­ton, 29, al­legedly shot Javier J. Flores in the throat in­side a Yakima Street home. Hamil­ton and Jerry D. Porter Sr., 30, are charged in Franklin County Su­pe­rior Court with first-de­gree mur­der.

Last year, coro­ner of­fi­cials also in­ves­ti­gated 25 fa­tal ac­ci­dents, eight sui­cides and four deaths with un­de­ter­mined causes.

That com­pares to 21 fa­tal ac­ci­dents, six sui­cides and five un­knowns in 2017.

Among those 2018 ac­ci­dents is the death of a Basin City con­crete worker, John C. Orozco Sr., 57, who was killed in a high-speed crash with Larry Pence, 40, on Glade Road North in Franklin County.

While Pence may face charges for caus­ing the crash, the death was clas­si­fied as an ac­ci­dent in the year-end re­port.

One statis­tic that caught the at­ten­tion of for­mer Coro­ner Dan Blas­del were the 11 deaths wait­ing for the Wash­ing­ton State Pa­trol Tox­i­col­ogy Lab to re­turn with blood test re­sults. The fi­nal pa­per­work can’t be fin­ished be­cause of a six-month de­lay at the crime lab.

“Most of those that are pend­ing, we’re pretty sure they’re go­ing to be over­doses, but we’re not go­ing to be sure un­til we get those re­sults,” Blas­del said.

If a ma­jor­ity of them are drug-re­lated, they would be added to the five over­doses the coro­ner’s of­fice confirmed in 2018. That could push over­dose deaths past those from guns (7), ve­hi­cles (5), drown­ing (4) and as­phyxia (4) to be­come the lead­ing cause of un­nat­u­ral deaths in the county.

Opi­oids and am­phet­a­mine are the lead­ing drugs in Franklin County over­dose deaths, Blas­del said.

Even with a new coro­ner tak­ing over in Franklin County, Blas­del said he plans to stay in­volved on the state level in try­ing to make it eas­ier for coroners to go to pri­vate labs. He was still check­ing on deaths from June as he fin­ished his last day as coro­ner in De­cem­ber.

The de­lays con­tinue to frus­trate law en­force­ment and keep fam­i­lies un­cer­tain about why their loved one died, he said.

The num­ber of sui­cides rose slightly from six to eight for the year. Five were by guns.

Can­cer con­tin­ues to be the lead­ing cause of nat­u­ral unat­tended deaths in the county, with 55 deaths.

Car­diac prob­lems (53) was sec­ond, with neu­ro­log­i­cal is­sues (47) third — a flip from 2017.

The re­main­ing causes in­cluded pul­monary (28), kid­ney fail­ure (9), liver fail­ure (7) and gas­troin­testi­nal prob­lems (5).

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