Farm death discovered by woman’s mail carrier

A missing tractor rollover bar and the lack of a seat belt may have contributed to the accident.
Sunday, July 1, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 9:32 p.m. CDT, Friday, July 11, 2008

It had been two days and still Ann Burton hadn’t picked up her mail.

Letter carrier David Backer felt that something was wrong. He knew from driving the same route for three years that Burton, 61, of Millersburg, never left her mail in the box.

“She picks up her mail every day,” Backer said.

On Wednesday afternoon Backer found Burton dead under her overturned tractor. It is not known how long she lay there before her postman found her. Burton’s closest neighbor is several hundred yards from her home, and the property is surrounded by trees and vegetation. Since the death of her husband two years ago, Burton lived alone.

Callaway County sheriff’s investigator Tim Osburn is looking into the possibility that Burton lost control of her tractor after suffering a heart attack. Burton also had diabetes, Osburn said, and that could have contributed to her death. A full report on the cause of her death won’t be available for at least six weeks, officials said.

Osburn said that the tractor was missing a critical piece of safety equipment, and Burton wasn’t wearing her seat belt when she was found. A bar that protects the driver from being crushed in the case of a rollover had been removed from Burton’s tractor.

“If she had those two things, even if she had a heart attack, it would have probably saved her life,” Osburn said.

The Fulton postmaster, Roger Bounds, said letter carriers try to keep an eye on the neighborhood where they work. It isn’t part of their official duties, he said, but rather a service to the community. It isn’t unusual for letter carriers to raise an alarm in the case of trouble, and Bounds said that he gets two or three calls from concerned carriers every few months.

“The thing about the postal service is that we touch every address (almost) every day,” Bounds said.

As he was beginning to drive away from Burton’s mailbox, Backer noticed Burton’s orange Kubota tractor overturned in a dry creek bed. When he investigated, it became clear to him that she was dead.

The area around Burton’s property receives poor cell phone service, and Backer had to drive to a neighbor’s house to call 911. Backer then went back to the scene and waited for the Millersburg firefighters to arrive.

Backer said that although he often checks in on the people on his route, this is the first time he has found someone dead.

A friend of Burton’s family, Theresa Howe, said that it is important for people who live alone to let somebody know if they will be engaged in dangerous activities.

“No one knows to check in on them if they don’t know they’re doing something dangerous alone,” Howe said.

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