City police investigate death of robbery suspect

VERGENNES — The investigation into the death of a 34-year-old John Graham Shelter resident during a Sept. 28 armed robbery should be complete no later than by the end of next week, said Vergennes Police Chief George Merkel.

Yemalla Sprauve, 34, died of undetermined causes after allegedly assaulting a male clerk at the Champlain Farms convenience store shortly after 4 a.m. on the 28th.

Police said Sprauve, who had been living with her husband and children at the shelter on a long-term basis, entered the store carrying a large knife while wearing a bandanna over her face.

Merkel said the woman allegedly threatened and advanced on the clerk with the knife. According to an earlier press release, “a struggle between the clerk and the woman ensued” in which the clerk disarmed Sprauve and wrestled her to the floor, restraining her there until another customer arrived.

That customer called police, who in turn called the Vergennes Area Rescue Squad because Sprauve was unresponsive. She was pronounced dead on the way to Porter Hospital, and an autopsy was ordered.

Merkel on Monday said the state coroner’s office should complete its autopsy report and make available the results of a toxicology screen by the end of next week.

By then, he expects his department also to have completed its investigation of the circumstances of Sprauve’s death.

As of this Monday, Merkel said police had interviewed the clerk, the customer who first responded, and members of VARS, and had one more interview to conduct. Police have also viewed and reviewed the surveillance video of the incident as well as the contents of the interviews.

Merkel said he cannot comment on any details related to Sprauve’s death, an event that last week drew 15 or 20 people to a vigil at Champlain Farms.

However, Merkel believes some of the evidence is conclusive.

“In my mind, there was an attempt at an armed robbery,” he said.

Merkel said he will make public his findings once all the coroners’ reports are in — he expects them by no later than a week from this Friday — and his department has made a full review of its evidence and those reports.

Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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