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Postal Driver Dies With Load of Absentee Ballots

October 03, 2003|Steve Hymon | Times Staff Writer

A truck carrying mail for the U.S. Postal Service, including more than 300 absentee ballots for next week's recall election, overturned early Thursday in the Mojave Desert when the driver suffered a fatal heart attack, the California Highway Patrol said.

The driver was Garald Smith, 57, of Mojave, said CHP Officer Steve Hunsaker. Smith worked for Tony Smith Trucking, a firm that contracted with the postal service. The crash occurred at 5 a.m. near Pearsonville on U.S. 395 when Smith, driving north, suffered a heart attack and then crossed all lanes of traffic before crashing through a fence.

None of the truck's cargo was thrown from the vehicle, but some of the mail was mixed up in the accident. Inyo County Registrar Beverly Harry said she had a few anxious moments when the usual load of mail failed to arrive on time in Independence.

"Someone said something about the mail being scattered" over the desert, Harry said. "That made me really nervous."

A second postal service truck picked up the mail from the crash -- ballots included -- and delivered it to Independence later in the day.

Inyo County is sparsely populated and covers 10,000 square miles of rugged country, including the Eastern Sierra and Death Valley. The county will have only two polling places open Tuesday, and most of its 10,098 registered voters use absentee ballots.

A ballot mailed from most places in Inyo County is first trucked south for sorting at a postal facility in Mojave -- in Kern County -- and then shipped back north to Inyo County, said George Marsh, a postal service spokesman.

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