Judge upholds retirement board's decision on fallen Hotshot

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By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver

PRESCOTT, Ariz. (AP) -- A judge Wednesday upheld a retirement board's decision to grant public-safety survivor benefits to one of the 19 firefighters killed in a 2013 wildfire in north-central Arizona.

Yavapai County Superior Court Presiding Judge David Mackey ruled that the family of Andrew Ashcraft is entitled to benefits through the state's public safety retirement system.

Ashcraft was among 13 Granite Mountain Hotshots who weren't classified as permanent employees by the city of Prescott. They were considered to be state employees at the time under a standing contract that allows the state to call on Prescott's crew.

All but one of the 20 hotshot crew members died after they became trapped in the Yarnell Hill Fire on June 30, 2013, and the wildfire swept over their position in a brush-choked canyon.

The families of part-time firefighters received far fewer benefits than those of full-time firefighters.

Last May, the Prescott Public Safety Retirement Board granted Ashcraft's family benefits through the Arizona Public Safety Personnel Retirement System. The Prescott City Council appealed the board's decision, arguing that it was based on emotion rather than facts.

Prescott City Attorney Jon Paladini said the City Council likely will decide soon whether to appeal the decision to the Arizona Court of Appeals.

Ashcraft is survived by his widow and four children.

"Juliann Ashcraft is gratified by the reasoned, meticulous decision that affirmed the right to survivor benefits that Andrew justly earned for their family," said Pat McGroder, one of the attorneys representing the Ashcraft family.

The Prescott Public Safety Retirement Board is scheduled to hold retirement benefit hearings later this month for the families of two other fallen Hotshots, Sean Misner and William Warneke.

In a related but separate proceeding, Juliann Ashcraft filed a lawsuit in July claiming her husband was eligible for participation in the public safety retirement system, which has a higher payout than the Arizona State Retirement System the city placed him in, and that the family is entitled to survivor benefits.

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