The United Farm Workers of America and relatives of the pregnant teen farmworker who died from heat stroke in a Farmington vineyard in 2008 are hoping to convince a judge to reject a plea deal for farm officials charged in the case.
Union officials and family members are urging a San Joaquin County judge to turn down a deal for two of the three defendants, who were originally charged with involuntary manslaughter in the death of 17-year-old undocumented immigrant Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez.
Authorities believe the teen collapsed because she was denied access to shade and water while picking grapes in 90-plus degree heat in 2008. The county coroner determined Jimenez died due to heat stroke.
If the plea deal is approved, Maria De Los Angeles Colunga, the owner of now-defunct Merced Farm Labor, and Elias Armenta, Colunga's brother and the company's former safety coordinator, would be sentenced to community service. Colunga would plead guilty to a misdemeanor and receive 40 hours of community service. Armenta would plead guilty to a felony and serve 480 hours of community service, but that felony could be reduced to a misdemeanor upon completion of the community service hours.
Superior Court Judge Michael Garrigan presided over the matter during a preliminary hearing. The case was headed to trial when Deputy District Attorney Lester Fleming and defense attorney Randy Thomas, who is based in Woodbridge, agreed to a tentative plea deal in January. Thomas represents both Colunga and Armenta.
The third defendant in the case, Raul Martinez, fled the charges and has not been seen since. Thomas said it is believed that Martinez is in Mexico, but no one is sure of his location.
Vasquez was two months pregnant when she collapsed May 14, 2008. She was taken to Lodi Memorial Hospital several hours after the incident, where it was determined she had a miscarriage. Vasquez died two days later.
Merced Farm Labor was fined more than $262,000 after the incident, and was shut down by the state in June 2008.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Contact reporter Fernando Gallo at firstname.lastname@example.org.