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Six census workers killed in car crashes in the past week

By Carol Morello
Tuesday, May 4, 2010; B03

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

That collision was one of two fatal car crashes involving part-time census takers in Texas, census officials said. There have also been fatal crashes in Florida, South Carolina and California.

The deaths are the first fatalities of the 2010 Census, but it is unclear whether all victims 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 U.S. Census Bureau, 21 employees died on the job between 1998 and last year, 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 workers have been hired to go door-to-door to follow up at addresses that did not mail in a census questionnaire. Most were trained last week and began making visits 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 are no higher than those for commercial delivery drivers. During the 2000 Census, 13 census takers died in auto accidents.

In one of the most recent incidents, a 67-year-old worker was driving Friday 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. The driver and his passenger, a 31-year-old census worker, 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 a tire on her car lost its tread. She lost control of the vehicle and struck a tree. She died at the scene; her husband and a co-worker in the car sustained minor injuries.

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

Staff researcher Madonna Lebling contributed to this report.

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