A Columbia postal carrier found a ready solution to lugging around her sack of mail during the recent record-breaking heat. She tossed it into the woods.
The carrier -- temporarily hired to fill in for vacationing employees -- dumped the mail from more than half her route into a wooded area Saturday near where Columbia carriers often stop to eat lunch, postal inspectors said yesterday.
The inspectors say they believe the carrier just didn't want to deliver mail anymore in the 102-degree heat.
"I can sympathize with anybody having to work in the heat, but you just can't throw people's mail away," said Larry Fryer, a postal inspector based in Washington.
The dumped mail -- all bound for the 21044 ZIP code in Columbia -- is to be delivered today after it was found undamaged Sunday by a father and his sons.
Steve C. Roberts, 34, and his sons Brandon, 6, and Trevor, 3, were in-line skating in the parking lot of the Woodmere office complex in Columbia's Owen Brown village when they stumbled across the overnight and priority packages, compact discs, bulk parcels, checks, magazines and bills scattered through the woods next to a drainage pond.
"I had stopped just short of killing myself on a curb near the wooded area, and all of the sudden I saw quite a bit of mail," Mr. Roberts said. "It went more than 20 feet back into the woods, as if someone had been trying to throw it all away.
"I was surprised to see it there. You put a stamp on something and expect it to get there. You don't expect to see it lying in the woods."
With the assistance of Howard County police, Mr. Roberts and his sons filled four large garbage bags with the mail -- between 50 pounds and 75 pounds of letters and packages, according to the investigating officer's report.
"I've never seen so much mail before," Brandon said.
The more than 500 pieces of mail were turned over to postal inspectors Sunday, who didn't have much trouble figuring out who was responsible.
The mail primarily carried postmarks from Thursday and Friday, indicating that it was to have been delivered Saturday, and all of it was addressed to the area around Cedar Lane and Hickory Ridge Road in Columbia's Hickory Ridge village.
"Fortunately, it didn't rain Saturday night or Sunday, so all of the mail was in good condition and we were able to inspect it quickly," Mr. Fryer said. "Hopefully, none of it blew away."
The postal carrier -- whom inspectors would identify only as a female temporary employee -- likely will face either federal mail-abandonment charges or state theft charges, inspectors said.
Postal inspectors yesterday would not comment on the woman's job status. The two most recent postal carriers caught abandoning their mail in this area -- both in Baltimore in November -- were fired, Mr. Fryer said.
He said it's rare but not unheard of for postal carriers to abandon their routes or steal from the letters they are to deliver, Mr. Fryer said. Fewer than 0.25 percent of postal employees nationally have been investigated by postal inspectors for such crimes, he said.
As for postal carriers abandoning their routes because they're tired of the heat, Mr. Fryer said, "I've never heard of that before."
Almost 2,700 postal carriers were delivering mail in Baltimore and its surrounding counties during Saturday's oppressive heat, said Helen Skillman, communications program specialist for the postal service's Baltimore district. Mr. Fryer and Ms. Skillman both were appreciative of the Roberts family's efforts to help recover the mail and complimented Mr. Roberts' sharp eyes.
But Mr. Roberts' wife, Alison, knows the real reason that her husband found the dumped mail:
"It's a good thing he can't skate very well or else that mail might never have been found."