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Hearing continues in case of worker who suffered heat stroke in vineyard

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Posted: Tuesday, November 2, 2010 12:00 am | Updated: 8:14 am, Fri Jan 21, 2011.

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 fernando@lodinews.com.

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  • Sam Heller posted at 8:27 pm on Wed, Nov 3, 2010.

    Sam Heller Posts: 176

    Give me a break. The boyfriend, father of the child, drove his girlfriend, and her father, around AFRAID to take her for medical care. He stated that he went to a store to get alcohol to rub on her skin to take her body heat down. Too bad he did not take her to the emergency room. Oh...yeah.. he and she were here illegally so he refused to seek medical care and killed her.

    He also stated that she was ill and throwing up before work.Why did HE force her to go in the field? Funny that he is no longer around to testify.

    Blame the farmer because the boyfriend and her Dad were uncaring jerks. In my mind, they killed her.

  • Alice Dodson posted at 8:06 am on Wed, Nov 3, 2010.

    Alice Dodson Posts: 20

    Doug, I basically agree with what you said with the exception of "legal" being the key word. If people want to work in this country, receive fair pay to support their families, this would not be a problem if they cared enough about this country to become legal residents, then they would have a leg to stand on. The field workers who are here legally know exactly what I'm talking about. They won't stand for the mistreatment, because they are not afraid of the retaliation of losing their jobs. Many of whom are legal are having problems finding jobs because the "contractors" don't want to pay for their hire. If there were not illegals here willing to work for peanuts and take whatever abuse is dealt out, then the honest, legal workers would stand a chance.
    I have lived here on Harold St. in the heart of the eastside for 26 years now, so do have a handle on what I'm talking about.
    Many of the workers of whom we speak use the system. They know no hospital will refuse delivering of the babies who will become US citizens by birth, then they are free to put up with their low paying jobs and collect the benefits. I personally know of many home owners here on the Eastside who will rent a 2 bedroom house to 4 people. The house is not a slum house, just as mine is not, but it certainly becomes one when the 4 people to whom the house was rented to pack in 8 other people!!
    You make very good points and I do as well.

  • Doug Chaney posted at 8:18 pm on Tue, Nov 2, 2010.

    Doug Chaney Posts: 1232

    Alice, I work with many of those people that are encouraged to stay here on the eastside of Lodi in those slumhouses, as many as 12-20 per small apartment or single family dwelling, owned by the slumlords and wealthy investors of livable, lovable Lodi. They are the ones that are afraid to speak up for themselves for fear of deportation and these "labor contractors" per se, along with many of the farmers and grapegrowers who merely exploit them for their cheap labor and willingness to work many long days for less hourly pay by cheating them of hours. Just ask one of those labor contractors how much per hour they deduct from these field workers' pay just to procure their job for them? Those I have information on hold anywhere from $2-4 an hour with no questions asked from the laborers themselves for fear of losing their paltry jobs. The employers hiring them are well aware of the games that are played that benefit their own bank accounts and that's why the law should be changed to make the employer responsible for each and every employee in his fields or on his property. And if any government subsidy monies, grants or contracts are given to this corporation (employer), all employees should be e-verified using the federal program to insure that each and every worker is either a citizen or has work documents allowing them to be here for work. And all payrolls should be certified to guarantee these low paid workers are getting every hour and every cent they are entitled to, with any deductions to their paycheck itemized on their paystub, along with their federal and state taxes. It's time once again the employers should be solely responsible for their own workers and not some sketchy charactered "labor contractor", many from south of the border themselves making a living from the exploitation of these hard working, mostly immigrant field workers who line the pockets of the wealthy.

  • Alice Dodson posted at 8:41 am on Tue, Nov 2, 2010.

    Alice Dodson Posts: 20

    This is always a sad situation when someone dies. But manslaughter charges???? That is extreme. People who work in the fields, furnace room, steam pressure rooms, and the like already know the working hazards. There are lots of people who work in these occupations and prepare for such. The workers make sure they take enough liquid to stay hydrated, etc. If not, they would all be sick or dead.
    People have to accept the consequences of neglecting their own health. Sorry if that sounds harsh, but surely the workers need to think for themselves.
    Florentino Baustista as stated is illegal- shouldn't have been here in the first place.



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