SANTA CRUZ -- The Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Office apologized to a Soquel family Thursday after being informed that a woman on the County's Most Wanted list died nine years ago.

Irene Koch was listed in the Sentinel and other media outlets on July Fourth for a 2002 warrant on suspicion of arson, said Santa Cruz County sheriff's Sgt. Patrick Dimick.

Although she died in October 2004 in Santa Clara County, her warrant remained in the system. Koch was 48.

"We sympathize with the family's feelings, and we're sorry that this happened," Dimick said Thursday. "It's embarrassing for us."

Deputies put Koch on the Most Wanted list as part of a package of wanted arson suspects.

A friend of Koch's family notified the Sheriff's Office about her death Thursday, and deputies found a Department of Motor Vehicle record that confirmed her death the same day. The warrant was rescinded.

Windy Valdez, Koch's daughter, said the Most Wanted listing brought up old pain and grief.

Koch owned a deli in Santa Cruz during the 1990s and died of cirrhosis, she said.

"It was very tragic. She was in and out of the hospital constantly," Valdez said of her mother.

Koch had been accused of setting fire to her ex-husband's home in Live Oak, and a no-bail warrant was issued because she failed to appear in court, according to authorities and Koch's family. Valdez believed that her mother was too ill to attend court hearings.


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Deputies

explained how the mistake was made.

When someone dies outside the county where a warrant is issued, there is no system that notifies law enforcement to cancel the warrant. Instead, deputies must check several computer systems -- including State Parole and a state inmate locator -- to try to confirm someone's death, said Dimick.

"There could be up to 10 systems to potentially check (a death) that reveal absolutely nothing," Dimick said.

He said there was no "definitive" way to keep the same mistake from happening again, but he noted that it was the first case among hundreds of Santa Cruz County Most Wanted cases that have been sent to the media since it started in 2011.

Follow Sentinel reporter Stephen Baxter at Twitter.com/sbaxter--sc

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