Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger visited Lodi on Wednesday to pay his respects to a young Lodi woman who died after collapsing while working in a vineyard in the Farmington area.
Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez, 17, collapsed at a vineyard on May 14 and died two days later at Lodi Memorial Hospital, according to United Farm Workers of America spokesman Armando Elenes.
Jimenez had just come to the United States from Oaxaca, Mexico in February to earn some money to help support her mother and six siblings, according to Arturo S. Rodriguez, United Farm Workers president . It was only her third day of work for Merced Farm Labor contracting, a farm labor contractor based in Atwater, Rodriguez said.
Family members and Jimenez's boyfriend, Florentino Bautista, 20, say that Jimenez died from working in 95-degree heat for nine hours. Jimenez was pulling "suckers," or small shoots, off the vines. The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health is investigating whether she died from overwork or poor working conditions, according to spokeswoman Kate McGuire.
Schwarzenegger stopped in Lodi for a brief appearance after the funeral for Jimenez at St. Anne's Catholic Church. The governor then had a private meeting with Jimenez's family.
"She came to the land of opportunity but found death," Schwarzenegger said before meeting with the family. "We must make sure this never happens again."
The governor visited Lodi because he had enacted regulations to protect farm workers from extreme heat, said Daniel Zingale, senior adviser to Schwarzenegger and chief of staff for first lady Maria Shriver.
"I think you can expect very vigorous enforcement of the law," Zingale said.
Assemblywoman Sally Lieber, D-Mountain View, told family and United Farm Workers members that the Assembly had adjourned on Tuesday in Jimenez's memory.
"It was entirely avoidable," Lieber told family and union members. "Denying water and shade was immoral."
Lieber was referring to an allegation by Rodriguez that Merced Farm Labor, working on May 14 at West Coast Grape Farming in Farmington, failed to provide water to farm workers from 6 to 10:30 a.m. that day.
Rodriguez, who talked to Bautista and Jimenez's family members, said that Jimenez became dizzy and unsteady on her feet at about 3:40 p.m. on May 14. She didn't know where she was and didn't recognize her boyfriend before passing out, Rodriguez said.
Jimenez was taken to a medical clinic in Lodi, then by ambulance to Lodi Memorial, Rodriguez said. Doctors said she had a temperature of 108.4 degrees, he added.
Jimenez's heart stopped six times in the next two days. The final time it stopped, she couldn't be revived, Rodriguez said.
A crowd of more than 200 people, many holding black United Farm Workers union flags, attended the funeral, which was conducted in Spanish by Father Jairo Ramirez of St. Anne's. Some 30 to 40 attendees were family members, Elenes said.
Union members will also join Jimenez's family for Sunday's 12:30 p.m. Mass in at St. Anne's before walking to the State Capitol over a three-day period to request that the state authorities do whatever they can to ensure that no farm worker dies from heat stroke again, Rodriguez said. The first stop is expected to be Sunday night in Galt.
Schwarzenegger, who did not speak to the media, released a statement Wednesday saying the safety of the state's agricultural workers is a matter of "life and death."
"Maria's death should have been prevented, and all Californians must do everything in their power to ensure no other worker suffers the same fate." Schwarzenegger said in the statement.
Rodriguez added, "This is a very sad day for all of us in the farm workers movement. It was a tragedy that should have never happened. We're doing everything we possibly can so that it doesn't happened again."
On Wednesday, the 17-year-old woman was wearing a wedding dress in her open casket at St. Anne's Catholic Church.
She and her boyfriend, Florentino Bautista, 20, met two years ago in high school in Mexico. They moved to Lodi in February so that they could work in the fields and earn money. Their plans, Bautista said, were to work in the United States for about three years, save some money, return home to Oaxaca, Mexico, get married and have a family.
Those plans evaporated on May 16, when Jimenez died at the age of 17, two days after collapsing in 95-degree heat in a Farmington vineyard.
After Jimenez's funeral Wednesday, a short meeting with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and talking to the media, Bautista spent about 10 minutes looking into the casket at the woman he loved, in her wedding dress. He was sobbing at times.
The soft-spoken Bautista said that doctors treating Jimenez discovered that she was two-months pregnant at the time of her death. He wonders if Jimenez knew she was expecting.
When asked what he considered Jimenez's greatest qualities, he said, "Her way of being. She was always smiling."
She enjoyed listening to music and being with her family, he added.
She leaves four brothers and two sisters in Mexico. Her father died eight years ago.
Rodriguez, who lives in Tehachapi, said that Schwarzenegger's visit demonstrates his concern for conditions affecting farm workers. Three of the governor's staff members attended the full Mass before Schwarzenegger arrived.
The Mexican Consulate is paying to transport Jimenez's body back to Mexico for burial. She was to be transported to a Los Angeles funeral home Wednesday afternoon, then taken to her hometown for burial, Elenes said.
McGuire, the California Department of Industrial Relations spokeswoman, said she could not comment on the investigation, which will likely take two to three months.
State investigators "determine factually what happened, and then they determine whether or not there were violations of the health and safety code," McGuire said.
If there are violations, the offender is cited and then the agency sends a report to local prosecutors to determine if criminal charges are warranted, McGuire said.
In 2006, the state fined Merced Farm Labor Contractors for three offenses. Those violations included failing to provide adequate heat stress training for all supervisory and non-supervisory employees.
That training was required to cover the importance of drinking enough water, recognizing heat illnesses and how to provide emergency medical services.
The other fines included failing to establish a written injury and illness prevention program, and not providing separate restrooms for men and woman. Each violation carried a fine of $750.
McGuire said on Wednesday that Merced Farm Labor Contractors had corrected the 2006 violations.
Questions addressed to the Merced firm were referred to Maria Colunga, who was named in the 2006 complaint. Colunga was reportedly on jury duty Wednesday and unavailable for comment.