A preliminary hearing continued Monday to determine if a manslaughter jury trial will be needed in the 2008 death of Lodi farmworker Maria Isabel Jimenez Vasquez.
Lodi resident Pablo Garcia, who drove the pregnant Vasquez to seek medical help after she collapsed at a Farmington vineyard, testified Monday that he did not believe Vasquez’ life was in danger on the day of her death, and in fact had no idea a person could die of heat stroke.
Garcia also said he never received any sort of training on working in high temperatures from either Merced Farm Labor (the company both he and Vasquez were employed by in Farmington) or any other farm labor contractor he’d worked for previously, and that there was no shade available to workers at the Farmington vineyard. He testified that he has received heat training since.
Defense attorney Randy Thomas has said it is fair for his clients to be charged with some misdemeanors, including in connection with work conditions, but argued that manslaughter charges are unwarranted and excessive.
Thomas represents Merced Farm Labor owner Maria De Los Angeles Colunga and her brother, Elias Armenta, who was the company’s safety director. Both have been charged with manslaughter, as has Merced Farm supervisor Raul Martinez, who fled after the charges were filed and is still on the run.
County Deputy District Attorney Lester Fleming, who is prosecuting the case, has stood by the charges, calling them “the most appropriate charges that I could come up with.”
Garcia, who regularly transported Vasquez to and from Farmington with other workers, said he did not know Vasquez was pregnant at the time of her collapse.
The court has attempted to bring in Vasquez’ boyfriend Florentino Bautista, whom Thomas calls a key witness, to testify repeatedly with no success. A bench warrant is set to be issued for Bautista, who is also an undocumented immigrant.
The hearing began on Oct. 25, and is being presided over by Superior Court Judge Michael Garrigan, who will decide if a jury trial is needed.
Contact reporter Fernando Gallo at firstname.lastname@example.org.