CLINTON — Perhaps no one knows people’s habits better than their mail carriers. That knowledge may have saved a Clinton man’s life.

Bill Berner sits by his front window watching westerns on his small, color television. Every morning, he sees James LaShelle through that window when LaShelle delivers Berner’s mail.

“He waves. I wave,” Berner said from his home Thursday.

But last week, Berner went missing from the window.

“You get used to people’s habits,” said LaShelle. “The ones that always pick up their mail every day, and the ones that never pick up their mail.

“Normally when I walk by Bill’s house, he’s in the window, and he’ll wave at me every morning, and he picks up his mail,” LaShelle said.

LaShelle was off work Thursday, Oct. 28, and he didn’t see Berner when he delivered the mail the following day, he said.

“I thought that was kind of odd,” said LaShelle, but he reasoned that Berner could have been in the kitchen making breakfast.

However, Berner was absent again Saturday, Oct. 30, and he hadn’t picked up Friday’s mail. LaShelle messaged his wife, Jean, who called her friend Angela Simmons, a former neighbor of Berner’s and a former home care worker.

Had LaShelle not known how to reach Simmons, he’d have gone inside and checked on Berner himself, he said.

Simmons was Berner’s upstairs neighbor from 2010 until last year, she said. “He became like a grandpa figure,” she said. “We did some gardening in the backyard for a couple of years in a row.” Berner became pals with Simmon’s son.

Berner is a retired farmer who has no family in Clinton, said Simmons. He likes to watch Westerns. “He’s just an amazing fella,” Simmons said.

“When I was there, if I heard a noise, I would come down and check on him,” said Simmons. “He’s like family.”

When Simmons heard from Jean LaShelle last Saturday, she went to Berner’s apartment to check on him.

“He was on the floor in the kitchen in front of the refrigerator,” said Simmons. “He had his empty water container beside him. He was kind of lethargic. I think the fever and the infection had got to him.”

Simmons and her son had visited Berner on Wednesday, Oct. 27. “We saw him Wednesday night because I bring groceries,” said Simmons. Berner doesn’t drive and doesn’t leave the apartment.

Berner told Simmons that he’d been dragged off the porch by his dog, Toby, earlier that week.

“I had my dog out on the porch, and the [neighbor’s] boxer unlocked the gate from the inside,” Berner said Thursday. The boxer was growling at Toby and attacking him, said Berner, and Toby pulled Berner off the porch.

“I thought they broke my wrist,” Berner said.

Berner didn’t want to see a doctor, said Simmons, but he apparently received an injury that day which led to an infection.

When Simmons arrived Saturday afternoon, after hearing from LaShelle, she found clothes and blankets on the floor, “and things were moved around like he was trying to get up.”

Berner thought it was Friday, Simmons said. “The fever made him a little lethargic.”

Berner said he fell in the hallway after taking Toby out at 6:30 or 7 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 28. Because he couldn’t get up, he crawled where he needed to go. “I was sleeping on the floor,” he said.

Berner was taken by ambulance to the hospital. “They checked his heart,” said Simmons, and took an X-ray and a computerized tomography scan to check for internal injuries.

Berner had an infection and a bit of delirium, said Simmons. He was given fluids for dehydration and antibiotics for the infection.

“Mr. James [LaShelle] is an awesome human being as well,” Simmons said.

When LaShelle delivered Berner’s mail Thursday, Berner was in his chair in front of the window as usual.

“We couldn’t be more proud of James,” said Mark Inglett of the United States Postal Service in an email Wednesday. “His concern for the resident and quick actions possibly saved a life.”

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Senior Staff Writer

A native of Centerville, Winona joined the Clinton Herald in November 2018 after writing for the Ottumwa Courier for two years.