Central Texas UPS driver’s family believes his untimely death was heat-related

23-year-old Jose Cruz had worked for UPS for just three weeks when he died on the job
The Rodriguez family holds a family photo taken with Jose Cruz at his sister's quinceañera in...
The Rodriguez family holds a family photo taken with Jose Cruz at his sister's quinceañera in March before his untimely death in August.(Photo by Rissa Shaw)
Published: Sep. 14, 2021 at 2:00 AM CDT
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WACO, Texas (KWTX) - The untimely death of a young UPS driver in Waco has sparked multiple investigations, and now his family is speaking out, saying they believe his death was heat-related.

“My son was very caring, very responsible, loveable. a hard worker, he was very mature for his age,” said Jorja Rodriguez. “He was the best son in the world to me.”

Jose Cruz, 23, was found dead around 2 a.m. Aug. 12 in the parking lot of his work, the UPS Facility at 5700 Franklin Ave.

His mother, Jorja Rodriguez, said she knew something wasn’t right when he didn’t respond to her messages that night and morning.

“He was not the kind of kid who wouldn’t answer my calls or texts,” said Rodriguez. “He’s my only son, I have two little girls, but he was the oldest and we had a special bond, that’s how I knew something was wrong that night.”

When he didn’t come home from work, the worried mother went to the UPS facility to find him around 1 a.m.

“If I hadn’t made a call or gotten there, nobody would have noticed my son was missing,” said Rodriguez.

Waco PD was called and a search commenced: Jose was there, but no one knew it at the time.

Finally, someone (whether it was a police officer or a UPS employee is unclear) found her son dead in the parking lot.

Rodriguez ran to her son--she says she saw police officers huddled around him.

“That’s no pain that I wish upon nobody,” said Rodriguez. “My son was young, he had a whole life ahead of him, I don’t think he deserved this.”

Jose, who’d had a job since he was 16-years-old, had only worked for UPS for three weeks.

“He was absolutely in excellent health...until he went to work for UPS,” said Rod Tanner, the Rodriguez’ family attorney.

Tanner, who is based out of Fort Worth, says the family hired him to seek justice for Jose.

“There’s no lawsuit pending at this point, we’ll make a final determination about that as soon as we have obtained all the relevant evidence,” Tanner told KWTX Monday. “It is concerning though--there’s been so many heat-related fatalities, injuries and deaths in the workplace.”

UPS is the single largest employer in the Teamsters Union.

“Heat-related injuries that go on at UPS have been well documented over the years, and yet it continues to happen, and now we have an unfortunate situation where someone has lost their life over it,” said David Reeves, Business Agent for Teamsters Local 767. “In this scenario, I’m not sure the level of supervision has been brought up to check on him while he was out there when we know it was well over 100 degrees that day with the heat index, and there should have been concerns with his dispatch and making sure he was ok throughout the day.”

When Teamsters 767 heard about Jose’s situation, they reached out to his family to help.

“The employees at the Waco facility have absolutely gotten behind Jose and his family and want to make sure they get justice for Jose,” said Reeves.

Reeves says they believe what happened to Jose is sadly nothing new.

“None of the package cars that are delivering the packages have air conditioning inside of them,” said David Reeves, Business Agent for Teamsters Local 767. “In some cases they’ve had employees record temperatures up to 140 degrees in the back of those package cars where they work.”

UPS confirmed, and explained the heat-related information in a statement to KWTX Monday from Matthew O’Connor, the company’s Senior Manager of Media Relations.

“We were very sad to learn about his passing and have sent our deepest condolences to his family. We have air conditioning in 20,000 of our large tractor-trailer vehicles. Air conditioning would not be effective in our delivery fleet, since our drivers make stops on average every 2 or 3 minutes and spend a significant portion of their time outside of the vehicle. UPS takes the health, safety and wellness of our people seriously. We have a dedicated team of more than 600 health and safety professionals who review work practices and ensure health awareness.  Our drivers are trained for the effects of hot weather and, as a result, reports of heat-related stress are rare. If an employee ever feels ill for any reason, we encourage them to stop what they are doing and notify their delivery center management. If they need assistance, local UPS personnel will respond by coming to their location to help them return to their delivery center or arrange immediate medical assistance at their location.  We never want them to continue working to the point that they risk their health or work in an unsafe manner.”

Jose reportedly did notify his supervisor that he didn’t feel well the night before, according to Tanner.

“He had just recently passed a Department of Transportation physical with flying colors, so there is some question as to whether there was adequate supervision, adequate training, those are among the issues we’re investigating currently,” said Tanner.

The family is doing their own, independent investigation separate of Waco PD’s.

They’re waiting on the results of the police investigation--which may include new video evidence--and the autopsy results from the Dallas County Medical Examiner, before deciding how to proceed.

“From everything I have seen and heard this was a remarkable young man who was well liked by everybody and it’s a tragedy, there’s really no way to describe the devastating impact this has had on the family,” said Tanner.

He says they’re trying to gather as much information as possible while the investigations are open.

“The Waco community should care because one of its own citizens passed away in an untimely manner, and the death may well have been preventable,” said Tanner. “If anyone has any information relevant to the circumstances surrounding Jose’s death, we would appreciate it if they would come forward and notify us.”

As they wait for answers, Rodriguez says her goal is to make sure her son isn’t forgotten.

“He should have been more supervised, and now my goal now is seeking justice and making sure that he’s always remembered, and making sure that his sisters, his family, don’t forget about him,” said Rodriguez. “I wasn’t ready for that, I don’t think any mother ever is.”

Jose was a 2016 graduate of La Vega High School.

Rodriguez said he loved his family, going out to eat and playing video games.

“My heart is broken,” said Rodriguez. “A piece of my heart went with him.”

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