Six census takers die in auto accidents during past week

By Carol Morello
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 3, 2010; 3:53 PM

Six census takers have died in auto accidents within the past week, including two Texans whose vehicle was hit by a tractor-trailer as they were delivering census materials.

The weekend collision near Lubbock was one of two fatal crashes involving part-time census takers in Texas, census officials said. There also were fatal collisions in Florida, South Carolina and California.

The deaths were the first fatalities of the 2010 Census, but it is unclear whether the victims all were working on the census when they died. One incident involved a tire that blew out, and one appears to have been related to a heart attack, officials said.

According to the Census Bureau, 21 employees died on the job between 1998 and 2009, including a woman who was mauled by a dog and a census taker in Kentucky whose death while checking addresses last year was ruled a suicide.

About 635,000 part-time census takers have been hired to go door-to-door following up at addresses where nobody mailed back a census questionnaire. Most were trained last week and began making visits on Saturday.

"When you have 600,000 people out there, all sorts of things happen," Census Director Robert M. Groves said Monday.

Census officials said the crash rates involving census workers were no higher than for commercial delivery drivers. During the 2000 Census, 13 census takers died in auto accidents.

In the most recent incident on Friday, a 67-year-old census taker was driving from the regional census office in Midland, Tex., to pick up materials for Lubbock when his vehicle failed to stop at an intersection and was sideswiped by a tractor-trailer. Both the driver and his passenger, a 31-year-old census taker, were pronounced dead at the scene.

Also Friday, a 73-year-old census worker in South Carolina had just completed training and was on her way to be fingerprinted when she lost the tread on her tire, causing her to lose control of the car and strike a tree. She also died at the scene. Her husband and a co-worker in the car had minor injuries

When workers die on the job, the Census Bureau pays for funeral expenses and their heirs are eligible for survivor benefits.

Researcher Madonna Lebling contributed to this report.

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