Census quarrel leads to charges, suspensions

Posted: Sunday, June 25, 2000

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A census squabble has led to the suspension of two members of the community's volunteer fire and ambulance squad.

Geraldine and Eric Denkewalter were suspended last month as fire volunteers after being charged with assaulting a female census worker.

They told Alaska State Troopers they became upset when they came home to find the woman inside their house with their 17-year-old daughter, court documents said.

They asked her to leave, they said, but never touched her.

But census taker Loretta Land told troopers the couple screamed at her, grabbed her arm and then ripped the census form from her hands.

''I literally thought I was going to be beat up,'' she said.

Land was following Census Bureau guidelines, said Chuck McGee, who heads the agency's Anchorage office. The bureau considers anyone over 16 an adult, he said.

''As far as I'm concerned, the enumerator did exactly what she was supposed to, and has not done anything wrong,'' he said.

The Denkewalters face misdemeanor assault charges, and are banned from the volunteer services until the case is resolved.

Under Matanuska-Susitna Borough rules, anyone charged with a property or a personal crime is prohibited from responding to calls, Public Safety Director Kevin Koechlein said.

Eric Denkewalter, a medic and assistant fire chief, said he's been advised by his lawyer not to discuss the case. His wife is also a medic.

The case and the loss of the couple's emergency-crew services have angered some in the community who say charges never should have been filed.

''This is so stupid,'' said Candy Moore, who heads the local ambulance service. ''I am so frustrated that somebody didn't step up to plate and say, 'Hey, maybe you both had a bad day and would an apology be due on both sides.' ''

Not having the Denkewalters available for duty has been a big loss for the ambulance service, which has just seven active members through summer and responds to about a hundred calls a year, Moore said.

An ambulance must be staffed by at least two people in order to respond to a call, she told the Anchorage Daily News.

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