Kansas City area mail carrier's death related to heat

Thursday, August 23, 2012 | 9:52 a.m. CDT; updated 2:41 p.m. CDT, Monday, September 24, 2012

KANSAS CITY — A Kansas City area mail carrier who collapsed while working in triple-digit heat died of heat-related causes.

The Jackson County medical examiner said John Watzlawick died of heat-related illness in July. The death report says Watzlawick had a body temperature of 108 degrees when he arrived at the hospital emergency room after collapsing on his mail route in Independence on July 24, The Kansas City Star reported Thursday. The report said a heart attack was a likely secondary cause of death.

Watzlawick's wife, Kay, said her husband had been feeling ill from the heat the day before he died and asked to be relieved from work early. But he told her a supervisor said no because he had been on vacation the week before when he was recovering a medical procedure on his knee.

"I think he should have come home that Monday and stayed off Tuesday," she said.

The Postal Service and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration have been investigating the carrier's death. Postal spokesman Richard Watkins said he couldn't discuss Watzlawick's case, but said letter carriers are reminded to take precautions in the heat. Like much of Missouri in July, the Kansas City area had been recording record-high temperatures above 100 degrees.

"We remind them their safety is paramount to delivering the mail, as important as that is," Watkins said. "It is a horrible circumstance for the Postal Service and, obviously, for Mr. Watzlawick's family."

Watkins said the Postal Service won't comment further until the OSHA investigation is completed. OSHA said its investigation would take several weeks.

Dan Pittman, national business agent for the National Association of Letter Carriers, said the Postal Service's financial problems and downsizing aren't making things easier for employees.

"We are so understaffed right now our letter carriers are working ungodly hours," he said. But he said carriers need to put themselves first if they are having health problems.

"If it concerns safety, you bring the mail back" to the station, he said.

Kay Watzlawick urged people to watch out for their letter carriers, who may be suffering from the heat.

"I do not want somebody else to go through this," she said.

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