California

Crash by crash, a tally of recent migrant transport deaths

Here are details of recent traffic accidents involving migrant farmworkers:

— Jan. 9, 2015 — Four farmworkers died when their van struck a semitrailer in Fresno County, California. The driver, who was not a contracted farm labor driver, had nine people in a van rated for only eight. The driver pleaded no contest in March to manslaughter, and the U.S. Department of Labor has moved to revoke the farm labor certificate of his employer, C.A.T. Labor Services. The company's attorney maintains his client did not arrange worker transportation.

— Jan. 13, 2015 — Five workers were killed in San Joaquin County, California, when the minivan they were in went through a stop sign in dense fog and was broadsided by a pickup truck. Police say neither of the drivers was licensed. Although the farm labor contractor was not held liable for the accident, the Labor Department fined him for unrelated transportation violations found at the same vineyard during its investigation.

— Feb. 3, 2015 — A migrant worker backed over and killed another with a school bus outside an Indiantown, Florida, restaurant. Investigators with the Florida Highway Patrol say the worker hopped behind the wheel of the bus when the regular driver didn't show. He fled the scene but was later caught and charged.

— June 3, 2015 — Two were killed and 10 injured when a bus carrying H-2A workers failed to stop and crashed into the back of a semi on Interstate 10 near Weimar, Texas. The bus was taking about 30 workers from Laredo to the tobacco fields of North Carolina. Police reports say the driver, who died, did not have a commercial license.

— June 20, 2015 — Four workers, including a 16-year-old, died and five others were injured when the van they were in rolled in Merced County, California. Police say the workers were returning from a day in the fields when the unlicensed driver fell asleep, drifted off the road and overcorrected. The six passengers — who were unrestrained, in violation of California code — were ejected. The Department of Labor has sued the grower and the farm labor contractor, alleging they "turned a blind eye" to unsafe transportation practices.

— Aug. 12, 2015 — Twenty-two mainly Haitian workers were injured , four of them seriously, when the bus carrying them home from Georgia ran off Interstate 10 northwest of Tallahassee, Florida, and rolled over into a ditch. The bus, whose driver was operating on a suspended license, was carrying two fully charged, unsecured propane tanks. Authorities say that not only was the bus not properly registered or inspected, but that farm labor contractor GSH Labor Management had failed to purchase liability and worker's compensation insurance. According to a state investigator, owner Gregorio Gonzalez told him, "I just did not have time to purchase this insurance before starting the harvest." In an interview with the AP, Gonzalez denied saying that. However, all workers' compensation claims were denied. The state has fined GSH $9,250 and says it will "refuse any renewal request or application" for a farm labor certificate.

— Sept. 1, 2015 — State police say a 36-passenger bus carrying 49 people was speeding when it ran off a road in Coffee County, Georgia , overturned and came to rest on its roof in a creek, injuring more than two dozen. Police say Jesus Rubio Nevarez was driving "too fast for conditions." The 1995 International bus was owned by WKI Outsourcing Solutions, whose federal farm labor certification had expired in May 2014. Although the labor contractor described himself as a crew leader for the grower, the Department of Labor found that the grower was not responsible. Thus far, the only repercussions from the accident were to Nevarez, who was cited for speeding and "failure to maintain lane." He paid about $317 in fines. Daysie Zepeda, 19, who fractured her left elbow in the crash, said neither she nor any of the other workers she's spoken with received any compensation.

— Sept. 8, 2015 — A 1995 International bus carrying 20 workers drifted off a two-lane road and rolled onto its side in White County, Indiana . Of the 13 people hurt, 10 reported "incapacitating" injuries. The AP found that the bus's owner had a history of alleged safety violations dating back to 2009. Records indicate that the insurance policy on the bus had expired in January 2015. Neither state nor federal labor officials investigated the accident.

— Sept. 21, 2015 — Twenty-six workers were injured when a tractor-trailer rear-ended their bus near Tarboro, North Carolina. Although it was not the bus driver's fault, he was charged for not having a commercial driver's license. State police said the bus, which is owned by a federal labor contractor, also lacked insurance.  

— Sept. 28, 2015 — Three women were killed and four others injured when their minivan, making a U-turn, was hit by a dump truck in McFarland, California. The women were on their way to work in a vineyard. Officials say driver Zenaida Quintero-Reyes, who was among those killed, had a valid license.

— Nov. 6, 2015 — Six Mexican guest workers were killed and seven others injured when a bus traveling from Michigan to Texas struck an overpass on Interstate 40 north of Little Rock, Arkansas. Police say the driver Roberto Vasquez was fatigued; a DOL report said he "hit a bump and lost control." An investigation determined that farm labor contractor Vasquez Citrus & Hauling had failed to have the bus inspected and was carrying less than a quarter of the required insurance. The company owner, who did not reply to a call from AP for comment, told investigators "he did not know that the worker's compensation insurance did not cover the travel back to Mexico."

— Dec. 1, 2015 — At least six people were injured when a van carrying 11 farmworkers failed to slow down and hit another car from behind in Copperopolis, California. According to the California Department of Motor Vehicles, the driver did not have a farm labor transportation certificate. The DMV said his license was suspended, "except in the course of employment."

— Jan. 27, 2016 — A 1994 Blue Bird bus carrying 23 Haitian farmworkers went through a flashing light intersection in Belle Glade, Florida, and crashed into a pickup truck. Police say the Haitian immigrant driver, Elie Dupiche, did not stop to make sure that no other vehicles had entered the intersection. No one was seriously injured.

— May 13, 2016 — Three workers died when their pickup crossing railroad tracks was struck by an Amtrak train in Madera County, California . The crossing was on private farmland, and the truck was owned by Erickson Farms. Jim Erickson said the driver, a Mexican native, had been with his company more than 20 years and was "like a son to me."

— June 18, 2016 — Six migrants — including a mother and her 5-year-old son — died when the van they were in hit another vehicle and flipped multiple times on Interstate 95 in Caroline County, Virginia. Ten others, including the driver, were injured. Police said the van's occupants, all undocumented immigrants from Guatemala and Mexico, had just finished harvesting blueberries in North Carolina and were on their way to do the same in New Jersey. Driver Wenceslao Cruz-Marquez, who authorities say did not have a driver's license, has been charged with manslaughter. Investigations by Labor and the National Transportation Safety Board are ongoing.

— July 2, 2016 — Four people, including a 4-year-old boy, died when the 1979 Blue Bird school bus they were in allegedly ran a flashing red light and collided with a tractor-trailer in St. Marks, Florida. Both vehicles burst into flames. The driver of the truck and three people in the bus died. Another 25 people were injured, including bus driver Elie Dupiche, the same man involved in the Jan. 27 accident. Later that month, the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Administration ordered farm labor contractor Billy R. Evans to immediately pull all of his vehicles off the road, saying he posed "an imminent risk of serious injury or death if your actions are not discontinued immediately." Neither Evans nor Dupiche responded to AP's calls for comment.    

— Aug. 11, 2016 — Six workers were injured when the school bus transporting them caught fire on Highway 135 in Santa Barbara County, California. The California Highway Patrol said that when the bus began smoking, the driver slowed to about 5 mph, and the 28 people on board began jumping out. No citations were issued in that case. But the Department of Transportation has issued 288 safety citations against the bus owner in the past two years, including seven for "Acute/Critical Violations" in inspections following the fire.