"That's strange," said Debbie Ducko of Gibsonton when she retrieved her recent water bill from her mailbox. "Burnt up on one side, when you went to open it, it crumbled," she said."
Hillsborough County Public Utilities said Ducko is one of almost 7,000 customers, all billed on March 11, who received either burnt bills or no bill at all.
"It is an odd situation," said Operations Manager at Hillsborough Public Utilities Gary Hunter.
Lakeland Electric customers are experiencing similar problems. A Lakeland Electric Spokesperson Kevin Cook said approximately 5,000 of its customers have reported no bills, burnt bills or damp bills.
"It was odd to get a burnt piece of mail. I was thinking: Did the post office catch on fire? Then I remembered the truck that caught on fire on the interstate," said Ducko, in referring to a March 21 crash in Wesley Chapel of a tractor trailer that was carrying mail to Tampa. The U.S. Postal Service said only magazines and advertisement mailers were on that truck.
Wednesday, the U.S. Postal Service revealed that an out-of-state accident is to blame for the mysterious burnt or ghost mail people are receiving in the Tampa area. Spokesperson Enola Rice provided this statement to ABC Action News:
"A mail truck operated by one of our vendors was transporting mail when it was involved in a vehicle accident on I-75 near Pinehurst, Georgia on March 15, causing the truck to catch on fire. The truck contained some First-Class Mail destined to Tampa. The partially burnt mail arriving in plastic bags to Tampa addresses was retrieved from this truck."
Rice advised people with questions to call 1-800-ASK-USPS, but stressed it will be nearly impossible to determine if your missing mail is directly linked to the mail truck accident in Georgia. She said salvaged pieces of mail will continue to arrive at Tampa addresses.
"It is quite a hassle," Hunter said. He added the issue has sucked up a lot of time and money at Hillsborough Public Utilities in man-hours to log customer complaints, as well as postage bills after sending out thousands of letters to customers to alert them to the problem. "There is more to be seen, probably, as more people don't get bills or get damaged bills," he said.
Hillsborough Public Utilities advised impacted customers to call 813-272-6680 to request a new bill. Hunter stressed the utility company is willing to work with customers on payment options should they end up with a double bill on their next cycle.
Lakeland Electric customers can check the website for more information: http://www.lakelandelectric.com/ .