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ID Worker Burned to Death

March 6, 2002

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) _ A state Highway Patrol report released Tuesday confirmed a driver’s license examiner charged in a bogus license scheme was not killed by the impact of her car ramming into a utility pole last month.

Investigators are still awaiting a coroner’s report on the cause of Katherine Smith’s death. Smith, 49, was found Feb. 10 burned beyond recognition in her car about 20 miles from her Memphis residence.

Witnesses told the FBI that the car was ablaze before it crashed into a utility pole. Smith had been scheduled to appear in court the following day on charges she helped five Middle Eastern men get licenses illegally.

Tennessee Highway Patrol Capt. Jimmy Erwin said an investigation determined Smith was traveling just over 20 mph, which he called a survivable crash. He did not to speculate on the cause of the fire.

Erwin said the few pieces of her clothes recovered from the car showed traces of gasoline.

``This was not a traffic fatality,″ Erwin said.

Memphis FBI spokesman George Bolds said Tuesday that the cause of the fire remains undetermined.

``We know she was alive but not necessarily conscious after the impact with the pole. She did breathe in superheated gases from the fire,″ Bolds said.

Smith was arrested five days before her death along with the five Middle Eastern men. She was accused of taking payoffs for helping them get driver’s licenses without proper documentation.

Smith had been released on her own recognizance. The other suspects are being held without bond and were behind bars when Smith died.

The men are charged under federal law with illegally trying to produce identification documents.

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