Thurston Coroner Investigating Four Deaths as Heat Related, But Cooling Center Saved Lives


Temperatures reached 109 degrees in Olympia on Monday, the apex of a historic heatwave hitting the Pacific Northwest.

For people living outdoors or in substandard housing, the extreme heat poses serious danger.

Thurston County Coroner's Office is looking into the deaths of four people between June 25 and Tuesday, June 29, that may have been heat-related. Two of the individuals were found in travel trailers without air conditioning. Another was found in an apartment without AC; a fourth person was found outdoors.

In each case, there was no external sign of trauma, said Coroner Gary Warnock. Pending toxicology tests will further explain the causes of death for the four individuals.

Thurston County declared a hazardous weather event during the peak of the heat wave and the city of Olympia opened a cooling center in a former firehouse at the intersection of Capitol Way and State Avenue.

The center was open from noon to 6 p.m. June 26-28 and a total of 314 people used the space over the three days, according to Keylee Marineau, Thurston County's Homeless Response Coordinator.

"We caught a few people who were laying asleep in the sun on the sidewalk that people were able to transport to (the cooling center)," said Allyn Hershey, the co-executive director of Partners in Prevention Education (PIPE), who led city staff and volunteers from local nonprofits at the cooling center. In addition to PiPE, staff members from Interfaith Works and Capital Recovery Center helped run the cooling center.

"If we weren't open, so many people would be out on the streets in the heat," Hershey said.

On Monday, two individuals were brought to the cooling center in a state that Marineau described as "heat exhaustion, if not heat stroke," and they were taken to Providence St. Peter Hospital. One individual was found lying outside unresponsive, Marineau said. A nurse at the cooling center took the person's vitals and called 911.

"I really believe we saved lives because of it," Hershey said.

Since the closure of the Providence Community Care Center day room in downtown Olympia in March 2020, homeless response organizations have scrambled to fill that gap. The center offered showers, laundry, and other services that are hard to come by for people experiencing homelessness.

"This (heat wave) just really clearly indicates to me that the lack of having a day center in our community is a health hazard for those who are living unhoused," Marineau told the Thurston County Board of Commissioners last Tuesday. "We don't have, unless it's an extreme situation like over the last three days, we don't have currently any place for individuals living outside to get out of the elements."

Going forward, Hershey said he hopes that resources like the cooling center can be made available on a more consistent basis.

"We have two, maybe three more months of heat. Maybe it doesn't hit 100, but maybe 90, high 90s," Hershey said.

"Are we going to have to do this again?"