Yarnell Hill widow's victory could help others

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By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman
By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman

PHOENIX (AP) -- A decision to award death benefits to the family of one of 19 Hotshots killed in last year's Yarnell Hill Fire could open the door to others seeking additional benefits, an attorney representing one of the widows said.

Patrick McGroder, an attorney for Juliann Ashcraft, said Friday that members of the Prescott Public Safety Retirement Board made it clear that the firefighters who died June 30 in northern Arizona are due full survivors' benefits even if they were classified as part-time employees.

Andrew Ashcraft and 12 other Granite Mountain Hotshots killed when the wildfire trapped them in a brush-choked canyon were considered part-time employees with the city of Prescott.

A city attorney argued this week during a hearing on the benefits issue that Ashcraft did not meet all the criteria for the city to enroll him in the state's Public Safety Personnel Retirement System.

"I know the board's decision was made on the facts and testimonial evidence and the documentary evidence. It was entered into the record and for that I think ... that evidence clearly, despite the emotional tumult that at least two of the board members had, was clearly overwhelming in that opinion," McGroder said.

He said he is working with the widow of firefighter William Warneke on pursuing a similar case.

The board voted 4-1 on Thursday to award Ashcraft retroactive membership into the state system, making his family eligible for full death benefits. The board will meet again in a few weeks to determine how much money will be paid out and how.

Mayor Marlin Kuykendall, the dissenting vote on the board, said Friday that the city hasn't decided on an appeal.

For Juliann Ashcraft, the decision was a victory but one she wished she didn't need to win.

"I would give anything to just see his smile," she said. "I would give every penny, every benefit, every single thing I will ever see again for just two minutes with my husband."

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