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Florida: 8 dead in farm worker bus rollover

Cars

Emergency personnel respond to the scene of a fatal accident Tuesday, May 14, 2024 in Marion County, Florida.

Emergency personnel respond to the scene of a fatal accident Tuesday, May 14, 2024 in Marion County, Florida. WFTS via AP

OCALA, Fla. (AP) — The driver of a truck that collided with a farmworker bus in Florida, killing 8 people, has been arrested for driving under the influence.

THIS IS A LATEST UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

OCALA, Fla. (AP) — A bus carrying farmworkers collided with a pickup truck and overturned Tuesday in central Florida, killing eight people and injuring about 40 other passengers, authorities said.

The converted school bus was carrying 53 farmworkers about 6:40 a.m. when it collided with a 2001 Ford Ranger in Marion County, about 80 miles north of Orlando, the Florida Highway Patrol said. The workers were headed to Cannon Farms in Dunellon, which was harvesting watermelons.

FHP Lt. Patrick Riordan said it appears the truck “moved toward the center line” and both vehicles slid sideways, causing the bus to swerve onto State Road 40, a two-lane highway. straight but somewhat hilly which passes through horse farms. The bus crashed through a fence, hit a tree and overturned in a field, Riordan said.

The driver of the pickup truck was also injured and taken to the hospital, Riordan said.

The bus ended up on its side, with its windows broken and its rear emergency door and upper tailgate open. The truck came to rest on the side of the road with its airbag exploding and the driver’s side badly damaged.

Federal statistics show that vehicle accidents were the leading cause of work-related deaths among farmworkers in 2022, the latest year available. They accounted for 81 of the 171 deaths.

There is no immediate indication that weather is a factor. It was also not immediately clear whether the bus was equipped with seat belts.

Authorities in several states have pushed for stricter regulations for the safety of farmworkers, who are overwhelmingly migrants. It is unclear whether all of the workers on the bus were migrants.

The Ministry of Labor announced new seat belt requirements for employer vehicles used by agricultural workers on temporary visas, among other worker protection measures that will take effect on June 28. The Florida Fruit & Vegetarian Association opposed it, calling the seat belt requirement “impractical.”

State law requires seat belts to be worn when transporting farmworkers using smaller vehicles, weighing less than 10,000 pounds.

“We will be closed today out of respect for the losses and injuries suffered early this morning in the accident at Olvera Trucking Harvesting Corp.,” Cannon Farms announced on its Facebook page. “Please pray with us for the families and loved ones involved in this tragic accident. We appreciate your understanding during this difficult time.

Cannon Farms describes itself as a family-owned business that has been farming its land for over 100 years. The company now focuses on peanuts and watermelons, which it sends to grocery stores in the United States and Canada.

No one answered the phone at Olvera Trucking Tuesday afternoon. The company had recently announced it was looking for a temporary driver to transport workers to the watermelon fields. The driver would then operate the harvesting equipment. The pay was $14.77 per hour.

It was not immediately clear whether the workers on the bus were migrants, but a Labor Department document shows that Olvera recently asked 43 H-2A workers to harvest watermelons at Cannon Farms this month- this. The company again offered a base rate of $14.77 an hour, with promises of housing and transportation to and from the fields.

The H-2A program allows U.S. employers or agents who meet certain regulatory requirements to bring foreign nationals into the country to fill temporary agricultural jobs. Florida farms employ more H-2A workers than any other state, about 50,000 per year, according to the Florida Fruit & Vegetal Association.

Andres Sequra, mission and ministry director of AdventHealth Hospitals, told reporters that injured workers who were able to receive visits from chaplains “were in good spirits after what they experienced.”

“We were able to provide support, presence, prayer when asked,” he said.

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Spencer reported from Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

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