Ky. Authorities: Census Bureau Employee Died of Asphyxiation
Updated 9:44 p.m. ET
The Census Bureau employee who was found dead and tied to a tree in Eastern Kentucky earlier this month died of asphyxiation, according to preliminary findings of a medical report.
State and federal law enforcement officials on Thursday dismissed the suggestions from various news reports that the man, William Sparkman, 51, might have been targeted because he worked for the federal government, calling them speculative.
The body of Sparkman, a part-time field worker for the Census Bureau, was found Sept. 12 in the Daniel Boone National Forest in rural southeast Kentucky. A rope was wrapped around his neck and tied to a tree; his feet were in contact with the ground, according to the Kentucky State Police and FBI.
What caused Sparkman's death is still under investigation, and authorities have not ruled out any possibility -- suicide, accidental death or murder -- said Kentucky State Police spokesman Don Trosper. A full medical report on Sparkman's death is not yet complete.
State and federal officials would not address whether Sparkman was found with the word "fed" scrawled across his chest, as the Associated Press reported Wednesday, citing a law enforcement source. They would also not discuss whether that he was working on Census matters before or at the time of his death.
"I think to give this impression that he was strung up because he was a federal employee is giving a bad impression to the nation," said Dave Beyer, spokesman for the FBI field office in Louisville, which is working with state officials on their investigation.
Kentucky State Police contacted the FBI when they learned of Sparkman's employment with the Census Bureau, Beyer said. Local and state law enforcement agencies regularly contact the FBI when conducting investigations related to federal employees.
It is a federal crime to attack a federal worker during or because of his federal job.
Beyer, who has worked in the FBI's Louisville office since 1993, said that violence against federal employees in Kentucky has been rare and unusual.
“It’s an unusual occurrence for a federal employee to be assaulted, and since I’ve been here there hasn’t been one killed because of their employment. It’s very unusual for that to occur."
The Census Bureau also said it had no information that suggested Sparkman was targeted because of his work for the agency. Census Director Robert M. Groves and regional officials flew to Kentucky on Sept. 12 after learning of Sparkman's murder from the FBI, according to the agency. Groves met with law enforcement officials, Sparkman's family and local employees.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with Mr. Sparkman’s family and friends. We are monitoring the developments closely," Groves said in a statement.
“The work of everyone in the Census Bureau depends on the success of our field representatives. They are the front line of the work we do. Mr. Sparkman was a shining example of the hard-working men and women the Census Bureau has in the field. The work they do on a daily basis is not easy but is a great and important service to our nation.”
In addition to his work as a substitute teacher, Sparkman was one of 5,900 Census field workers that conduct the annual American Community Survey and dozens of other government surveys each year. Such workers are typically called in by the Census Bureau for assignments as needed. The agency said it will hire roughly 700,000 temporary workers to conduct follow-up interviews for next year's decennial Census.
Violence against Census employees is extremely rare, according to the agency. Field workers receive safety tips as part of their basic training and are instructed to immediately remove themselves from unsafe situations and to inform supervisors if they consider an area too unsafe to work alone.
Threats are more common than actual attacks on federal employees, Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry said Thursday in an interview. He noted that people regularly threaten federal judges and their families, IRS agents and federal law enforcement officers.
Twenty-one work-related deaths involving Census Bureau employees have occurred since 1998, according to agency records. During the 2000 Census, 13 workers died in automobile accidents, and an Indiana employee was attacked and killed by a pack of dogs. Since then, two employees of the agency's New York regional office died on United Flight 93 on Sept. 11, 2001, four others have died in automobile deaths, and Sparkman died on Sept. 12.
Berry called the death a tragedy and said his office is closely monitoring the situation.
"Our hearts and our thoughts and prayers go out to the family of this worker," he said.
In a statement, Bill Schauman, president of the union that represents Census Bureau employees at agency headquarters in Suitland, described Sparkman’s death as disturbing and a reminder “that the image of federal employees has been badly bruised by politicians great and not so great during the last 30 years.”
“Perhaps, if more of our leaders had talked over the years about the dedication of the federal workforce, and shown us more of the appreciation and trust we deserve, this terrible event might not have happened,” Schauman said.
| September 24, 2009; 6:14 PM ET
Categories: Agencies and Departments
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