MANCHESTER, Ky. (CBS/AP) Retired trooper Gilbert Acciardo told census worker Bill Sparkman to "be careful" when he announced he would be going door-to-door collecting data in rural southeast Kentucky, but it appears Sparkman wasn't wary enough.
Sparkman, 51, was found this month hanged from a tree near a cemetery about 80 miles from Lexington, with the word "fed" scrawled on his chest, a law enforcement official said Wednesday. The FBI is investigating whether he was a victim of anti-government sentiment.
"Even though he was with the Census Bureau, sometimes people can view someone with any government agency as 'the government.' I just was afraid that he might meet the wrong character along the way up there," said Acciardo, who directs an after-school program at an elementary school where Sparkman was a frequent substitute teacher.
Until the investigation is complete, The Census Bureau has suspended door-to-door interviews in rural Clay County, an official said. The area has had issues with prescription drug abuse and methamphetamine.
The law enforcement official, who was not authorized to discuss the case and requested anonymity, did not say what type of instrument was used to write the word on the chest of Sparkman, who was supplementing his income doing Census field work. He was found Sept. 12 in a remote patch of Daniel Boone National Forest and an autopsy report is pending.
The small town of Manchester, Ky., the main hub in Clay County, is merely an exit off the highway, and has a Wal-Mart, a couple of hotels, chain restaurants and a few gas stations. The drive away from town and toward the area where Sparkman's body was found goes through sparsely populated forest with no streetlights, on winding roads that run up and down steep hills.
Manchester Police Chief Jeff Culver, whose agency is not part of the investigation because the death was outside city limits, said the area where Sparkman was found has a history of problems with prescription drug and methamphetamine trading.
"That part of the county, it has its ups and downs. We'll get a lot of complaints of drug activity. They'll whittle away, then flourish back up," Culver said. He said officers last month rounded up 40 drug suspects, mostly dealers, and made several more arrests in subsequent days.
FBI spokesman David Beyer said the bureau is assisting state police and declined to discuss any details of the crime scene. Agents are trying to determine if foul play was involved and whether it had anything to do with Sparkman's job as Census worker, Beyer said. Attacking a federal worker during or because of his federal job is a federal crime.
Lucindia Scurry-Johnson, assistant director of the Census Bureau's southern office in Charlotte, N.C., said law enforcement officers have told the agency the matter is "an apparent homicide" but nothing else.
Census employees were told Sparkman's truck was found nearby, and a computer he was using for work was inside, she said.
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