Early Findings Are Released on Census Worker's Death

By Ed O'Keefe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 25, 2009

The Census Bureau employee who was found dead and tied to a tree in Kentucky this month died of asphyxiation, according to a preliminary medical report.

State and federal law enforcement officials on Thursday dismissed the suggestion from a news service report that the man, William Sparkman, 51, may have been targeted because he worked for the federal government, calling that speculative.

The body of Sparkman, a part-time field worker for the agency, was found Sept. 12 in the Daniel Boone National Forest in rural southeastern 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 the FBI.

The cause of Sparkman's death is under investigation, and authorities have not ruled out suicide, an accident or homicide, said Kentucky state police spokesman Don Trosper. A full medical report on Sparkman's death is not complete.

State and federal officials would not say whether Sparkman was found with the word "fed" scrawled on his chest, as the Associated Press reported Wednesday, citing a law enforcement source. They would also not discuss whether 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 David Beyer, spokesman for the FBI field office in Louisville, which is working with state officials on the investigation.

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 the job.

Beyer, who has worked in the FBI's Louisville office since 1993, said that violence against federal employees in Kentucky is rare.

"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 he worked for the agency. Census Director Robert M. Groves and regional officials flew to Kentucky on Sept. 12 after the FBI told them about Sparkman's death, 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.

In addition to his work as a substitute teacher, Sparkman was one of 5,900 census field workers who conduct the annual American Community Survey and dozens of other government surveys each year. The Census Bureau typically calls in such workers as needed. The agency said it will hire about 700,000 temporary workers to conduct follow-up interviews for next year's decennial census.

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