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'The mail will still be there, my husband won't' | Widow of USPS letter carrier who died during route wants answers

Eugene Gates Jr., 66, collapsed delivering mail door-to-door Tuesday in Lakewood, Texas. He later died. The heat index was above 110 degrees that day.

LANCASTER, Texas — In her Lancaster home, Carla Gates is surrounded by family -- a sadness consumes the air. Crosses hang on the wall, and pictures of her wedding day from 2015 are perched high in her living room. 

Beside her in those photos is her best friend, 66-year-old Eugene Gates, Jr., a man she now misses dearly. 

Gates, a letter carrier for the U.S. Postal Service for 36 years, collapsed delivering mail door-to-door Tuesday in Lakewood and was later pronounced dead at an area hospital. 

It was one of the hottest days of the year, with a weather warning even in effect.

Credit: WFAA
Carla Gates, the widow of the Dallas USPS letter carrier who died on his route, speaks with WFAA for the first time.

Over the last 48 hours, Carla Gates’ faith has guided her through a horrific tragedy she wishes upon no one in this world. 

“I don’t wish this on anyone. A mother, a father, a son, a wife -- anyone,” Carla Gates told WFAA. “To have to go to a hospital and be told your husband died in the line of duty -- I don’t want that to happen to anyone.” 

Gates was a man of service, according to Carla. Someone who took the utmost pride in their calling. He had already been delivering letters when the two met in 2010 at a church in Lancaster. 

The pair started dating in 2013 and tied the knot two years later. 

Credit: Gates family

Carla Gates, 56, says she was struck by how sincere and intentional Gates was -- how dedicated he was as a member of their congregation. 

“When he meant yes, he meant yes. When he meant no, he meant no, and when he loved you, he loved hard,” Gates said. “If you came across his path, you would have never forgotten him.” 

Per Gates, her husband got his sense of duty and service from the military. 

The 66-year-old was born at Fort Bragg (now Fort Liberty) in North Carolina and later moved to Killeen with his family.

His family was rooted in the military, which pushed Gates to join the Army, serving eight years. 

Carla says Gates joined the post office while looking for a job after his time in the Army and ended up loving it. 

“He was a man of integrity,” Gates said. “Once you got to know him, you would think you’d known him all your life. He was a loving father and husband, and he cared about people. When he put his hands into anything, he gave it his all.” 

“He liked to walk, he liked being outside, and he loved his route.” 

Credit: WFAA
Carla Gates speaks with WFAA.

Gates walked that route for more than ten years, she said. It was the one he was on when he collapsed. 

Officials said Gates fell over in a yard and was taken to Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital. 

Gates says she learned about the news first from a post office official and then from a chaplain at the hospital who asked her to arrive immediately. 

Hours earlier, Gates showed texts from her husband, who had warned her about how hot it was that day. 

“Morning, sweetheart, love you and have a wonderful day,” Eugene texted at 6:48 a.m. 

Carla replied, “Good morning, baby. Love you.” 

Eugene then texts, “It’s 88 degrees outside.” Carla replies, “Already?” 

The two exchanged a few more texts, then Carla never heard from her husband again. 

Gates said that Eugene was a very prepared individual, healthy, and took precautions.

Credit: Carla Gates
A photo of Eugene Gates and his wife Carla.

USPS officials aren’t ready to say that the heat played a role in Gates’ death. Officially, they’re waiting on an autopsy to be completed. 

But Gates isn’t waiting to give her opinion -- and is begging for more answers and considerations to be made for letter carriers during hot days. 

“My husband was trying to complete his assignment. That was his job...and the heat got to him,” Gates said. “No one should have been outside working like that when the heat index is that high. No one. Deliver the mail earlier or later, or wait.” 

“Am I mad at the postal service? Yes. Am I angry? Yes. The mail will still be there, but my husband won’t.”

Some changes are being made in the wake of Eugene Gates' death. Letter carriers at his office in Lakewood are allowed to begin their routes early on hotter days at 7:30 a.m. instead of 8:30 a.m. 

But a union official for the National Association of Letter Carriers told WFAA that was the only office where changes were being made in the metroplex. 

That official also told WFAA that OSHA is now investigating Gates’ death. 

Gates added that no one from USPS has officially responded to her and offered their condolences.

WFAA asked the USPS about that and was told no comment. Furthermore, WFAA requested the number of times a mail or letter carrier had died due to the heat and have not heard back. 

A union official said that Gates’ death is not the first time but didn’t give specifics.

Friday, Congresswoman Jasmine Crockett (TX-30), who represents the Gates' district, shared her condolences, saying she's "devastated by the news of the loss of my constituent and one of Lancaster's own, Eugene Gates. My heart goes out to to his wife Carla, his family, friends, USPS coworkers, neighbors, and the entire Lancaster community.  

Crockett didn't shy away from saying heat played a role and called for an investigation. 

"As a member of the House Oversight Committee, which has jurisdiction over the United States Postal Service, as well as a member of the Subcommittee on Government Operations and the Federal Workforce, I intend to investigate the circumstances that led to this tragedy and work with my colleagues to ensure that we prevent avoidable deaths such as this arising from federal employees performing public service during extreme weather conditions," Crockett said in a statement. 

"Summer has only just begun, temperatures are only getting hotter, and tragedies like this can happen in any state, and any district. I urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to come together to address the hazards faced by our country's postal workers before another life is lost. "  

Gates’ daughter, Shanaye Jones, is also eager to see change enacted.

Credit: WFAA
Shanaye Jones tells WFAA she'd like to see better working conditions for postal workers.

“I don’t want this to happen to anybody else either,” Jones said. “It hits me hard that he’s not with us anymore. Everything that happened was so unexpected; I really want to see better conditions for the workers.” 

Late Thursday, the NALC president released a statement regarding Gates’ death for the first time. 

“On behalf of NALC, I send my deepest sympathies to Brother Gates’s family, friends, and colleagues,” NALC President Brian L. Renfroe said. “Eugene was a dedicated letter carrier with a long and successful Postal Service career. He will be greatly missed by everyone, particularly his fellow branch members and customers.”

Gates’ family said they are hoping to bury the 66-year-old sometime next weekend. 

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