Sparrow Medical Examiner releases death report of Ingham, other counties for 2020


LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) — Sparrow’s Office of the Medical Examiner has just released its 2020 annual report on deaths across the following counties: Ingham, Eaton, Ionia, Isabella. and Shiawassee County.

The Office of the Medical Examiner investigates cases that are related to injury or poisoning, as well as deaths that are sudden or unexplainable.

According to the report, this is what happens after someone dies:

  • A death is reported to the on-call Medical Examiner Investigator (MEI).
  • MEI assesses whether they have legal authority and duty to investigate the death.
  • The death scene is visited and investigated if needed.
  • Information is obtained about the departed’s medical, history, social history an other information surrounding the events that were associated with the death.
  • If an examination is needed, the body goes to the Forensic Pathology Laboratory at Sparrow Hospital in Lansing, MI.
  • If the investigator determines that the death does not require a postmortem examination, the on-call Medical Examiner or Chief Investigator may be contacted to discuss the case before the body is released to the funeral home.
  • An investigative report is written by the MEI.
  • When applicable, the deceased’s primary care physician is notified of the death, and the medical history is confirmed.
  • A death certificate is generated by either the decedent’s personal physician, the attending physician in the medical facility, or the assigned Medical Examiner or Deputy Medical Examiner.
  • If a postmortem examination is performed, following receipt and review of all appropriate test results and records, a postmortem examination report is written.
  • Permanent records are kept for future use, as needed, and distributed to those who have requested a copy of the report and are authorized to receive the report.

You may be wondering, when exactly is an autopsy deemed necessary?

An autopsy is performed under the following circumstances:

  • The death is known or suspected to have been caused by apparent criminal violence.
  • The death is unexpected and unexplained in an infant or child.
  • The death is associated with police action.
  • The death is apparently non-natural and in custody of a local, state, or federal institution.
  • The death is due to acute workplace injury.*
  • The death is caused by apparent electrocution.*
  • The death is by apparent intoxication by alcohol, drugs, or poison, unless a significant interval has passed, and the medical findings and absence of trauma are well documented.
  • The death is caused by unwitnessed or suspected drowning.*
  • The body is unidentified and the autopsy may aid in identification.
  • The body is skeletonized.
  • The body is charred.
  • The forensic pathologist deems a forensic autopsy is necessary to determine cause or manner of death, or document injuries/disease, or collect evidence.
  • The deceased is involved in a motor vehicle incident and an autopsy is necessary to document injuries and/or determine the cause of death

*Unless sufficient antemortem medical evaluation has adequately documented findings and issues of concern that would otherwise have required autopsy performance.

The report includes a variety of stats, including comprehensive case summaries of deaths in each individual county, a comparison of deaths across all five counties and a trend analysis from 2016 to 2020.

Let’s start with the county-wide comparison chart:

Across the Board

For the year of 2020, Ingham County saw the most deaths reported to and investigated by the Medical Examiner, with 1,087 reported to the MEI, and 965 of those deaths being investigated.

On average, across five counties, 28.46% of deaths reported to the MEI were investigated.

The highest categories for the manner of death include natural death and accidental death.

Of all five counties, no bodies were exhumed for examination, and no cases were unidentified at the time of a final disposition.

Ingham County

With the highest population, it comes as no surprise that Ingham County had the most deaths investigated by the MEI.

While there has been an increase of deaths by 813 since 2016, there has been a decrease in scene investigations, unclaimed bodies and tissue or cornea donors.

For the manner of death in Ingham County, suicides decreased from 2019 to 2020, but accidental deaths increased by 170 from 2019 to 2020. Overall, there was an increase in total deaths.

The biggest categories for causes of accidental deaths for Ingham County were drug and fall-related. 26 more drug-related deaths were reported for 2020, making the total death count 124, compared to 98 in 2019. Fall-related deaths went down by 2, reporting 93 for 2020, compared to 95 for 2019.

Opioids accounted for 88% of drug-related deaths.

Suicides decreased from 2019 to 2020, with the leading cause of death being by firearm, something consistent from 2016 to 2020.

Among children, the age groups that saw the highest number of deaths are less than one-year-old and 11 to 17. A third of the deaths that occurred in children were considered indeterminant.

Eaton County

Eaton County saw an increase of 156 deaths for 2020, totalling to 866. Only 235 of those deaths were reported to the ME, with 212 of those deaths being accepted for investigation.

Of the 235 deaths that occurred in Eaton County for the year of 2020, 174 were natural and 42 were accidental. Only three deaths were indeterminate.

The biggest categories for causes of accidental deaths for Eaton County were drug and vehicle-related. 18 more drug-related deaths were reported for 2020, making the total death count 25, compared to seven in 2019. Vehicle-related deaths went up by two, reporting 12 for 2020, compared to 10 for 2019.

Like Ingham County, opioids accounted for 88% of drug-related deaths. 25 of the 26 deaths were accidental, the last death is by suicide.

Suicides decreased from 2019 to 2020, with the leading cause of death being by firearm, followed by hanging. Suicides were most prevalent among the age group of 45 to 64.

Three children were reported dead in Eaton County for 2020, all of which were accidental.

Ionia County

In the summary of cases, Ionia county saw a major spike of deaths in the year 2020, with 119 of those deaths being reported to the Medical Examiner.

Approximately 110 of those cases were accepted for investigation, with 107 of those cases necessitating crime scene investigation.

Ionia County did not see a stark increase in deaths, but the leading categories of the manner of death were natural and accidental, followed by suicide.

Accidental deaths went down by four between 2019 and 2020, the only category to see a decrease.

Since 2016, there has been approximately one homicide every year, going back to 2016.

Regarding accidental deaths in Ionia County, six were vehicle-related, five were fall-related and four were drug-related.

All drug-related deaths were accidental, and 75% of the deaths were related to opioids.

Of the nine people that committed suicide, the leading causes of death were by firearm and by hanging, ranging from ages 18 to 65 and up.

Five children died last year, with the leading manners of death being accidental and natural with one death being indeterminant.

Shiawassee County

Shiawassee County saw an increase in total deaths by 22, increasing from 708 to 730. Only 219 of those deaths were reported to the medical examiner, 182 of those cases were accepted by investigators.

Natural and accidental deaths take the lead, natural deaths being up by 27 and accidental deaths up by 10.

According to the report, there were no homicides in Shiawassee County during the year of 2020.

Many accident-related deaths in Shiawassee Co. were vehicle-related raising up to 11 compared to 2019’s 7 auto-related deaths. 11 of those accidental deaths were drug-related, 8 of the deaths were fall-related, 3 people drowned, 2 people died of hypothermia, 2 people died from asphyxia, and 1 died in relation to fire.

Only one child died in Shiawassee Co last year.

Isabella County

Isabella Co. saw an increase in deaths for 2020, with 479 deaths in 2019 increasing to 603 in 2020.

The trend across the five counties continues with Isabella, as the leading manner of death for 2020 was natural, followed by accidental. 119 of 148 deaths were due to a natural manner of death.

Among accidental deaths, drug-related deaths were the highest with eight, followed by five for both falling and vehicle-related.

Though many different kinds of accidental death were listed for Isabella Co., one person died of asphyxia.

All drug-related deaths were accidental, all of which involved opioids.

Suicides in the area encompassed a wide variety of age groups, all of which were done either by firearm or hanging.

Six children were reported dead for the year of 2020, two were natural, two were by accident, one was a suicide, and was death was indeterminate.


  • Deaths investigated by the MEI across all counties were up by 782 cases.
  • Natural deaths were up by 247 cases.
  • Accidental deaths were up by 38 cases.
  • Suicides were down by 15 cases.
  • Homicides went up by 10 cases.
  • Vehicle-related deaths were up by 9 cases in 4 of 5 counties.
  • Drug-related deaths were up by 34 cases, in increase of more than 15% in Ingham and Eaton Counties.
  • Of the accidental deaths, 74 were vehicle-related deaths.

Once again, to access the report, click here.

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