Probe into city death to continue

VERGENNES (AP) — The Vermont Attorney General’s office is trying to determine if a crime was committed when a woman attempting to rob a Vergennes convenience store in September died while she was held down by a store clerk. The state medical examiner late last week ruled the death of the woman a homicide.
On Friday, the state health department released the death certificate of Yemella Sprauve, who died Sept. 28 after she had been held down by the Champlain Farms clerk who took a knife away from her during an early morning struggle.
The medical examiner determined the 34-year-old Sprauve, of Vergennes, died of an irregular heartbeat during an altercation that was brought about when her chest was compressed while she was “acutely intoxicated with cocaine,” the death certificate said.
Police have not released the name of the store clerk. Vergennes Police Chief George Merkel said Friday he and the Addison County state’s attorney had referred the case to the state attorney general’s office. He told the Independent that as he has handed the case to the state’s attorney, it would be irresponsible for him to comment.
Assistant Attorney General Matthew I. Levine said Friday the investigation should be completed within 90 days.
Levine wouldn’t discuss the details of the investigation, but he said the medical examiner’s use of the term “homicide” to describe the manner of death does not indicate whether a crime has been committed.
“What we are being asked to do is look at all the facts and circumstance to determine whether the actions of the clerk would support any possible criminal charges or whether the death was either justified or unintentional,” Levine said.
Vergennes police have said Sprauve approached the clerk at the convenience store carrying a large knife. The clerk disarmed her and held her down while waiting for police after another customer called 911.
After the altercation, Sprauve was unresponsive. She later was pronounced dead at Porter Hospital in Middlebury.
Champlain Farms President David Simendinger did not return a call Friday seeking comment, but after the incident he said his employee “clearly” acted in self-defense.
Sprauve was the mother of four children ages 9 months to 19 years old.

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