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Eight Workers Killed, Dozens Injured in Florida Bus Crash

15 May, 2024 Liz Carey

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Ocala, FL (WorkersCompensation.com) – At least eight people are dead and another eight are in critical condition after a bus carrying farm workers to a job site crashed and overturned in Florida Tuesday.

Officials said the bus was transporting dozens of workers to a watermelon farm when it was hit by a Ford Ranger heading in the opposite direction on State Route 40. The Florida Highway Patrol said the two vehicles sideswiped each other sending the bus onto the shoulder of the road where it struck a fence and two trees and overturned.

Highway patrol said eight people were killed, eight were in critical condition, another 10 had serious injuries and at least two dozen occupants of the bus had minor injuries. About 40 people were transported to hospitals, officials said. The driver of the pickup was also hospitalized in serious condition. James Lucas with Marion County Fire Rescue said the number of fatalities could grow because of the conditions of the critically injured bus occupants.

“There’s a high probability this may be beyond eight fatalities,” he said, noting some of the injured, including the driver of the pickup truck, are in “very serious condition.”

The workers were laborers for a private company and were on their way to Cannon Farms in Dunnellon, Florida, about 20 miles east of Ocala. The crash occurred Tuesday morning, around 6:35 a.m., officials said. The owner of the company was on the bus with the workers and was also transported to the hospital.

Marion County Sheriff Billy Woods said the bus passengers are believed to be migrant workers, and praised the passengers for their work ethic.

“We’re a very big agricultural county. So this time of year, we always have migrant workers that are in our county, that are on buses just like this,” Woods told reporters at a press conference. "My heart goes out to them."

Woods said his office was assisting investigators, especially with translation. The victims’ identities are being withheld pending notification of their families.

Juan Sabines, the Mexican consul in Orlando, said the victims were all from Mexico and in the country on temporary work visas.

“Please pray for these nationals,” Sabines said. “We hear a lot of bad things of the immigrants all the time, in the reality, these people (are) good people. (They are) very good people, young people. They stay in this country just for work, with (a) visa. These (are) very good people and now they lost the main support of their family.”

Bryan Maclean Howard, the driver of the Ford Ranger that struck the bus, has been arrested and charged with eight counts of manslaughter while driving under the influence, a release from the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles released Tuesday afternoon.

“Identities of the deceased will be released pending next of kin notification,” Kerner said in his statement. “Our sympathies and prayers are with the families of the deceased. Consistent with our duties, the Florida Highway Patrol will conduct both a thorough and exhaustive traffic crash and criminal investigation.”

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, transportation accidents were the leading cause of death for farmworkers in 2021. Those accidents include roadway crashes as well as things like tractors overturning.

In February, eight people were killed in California in a similar incident when a van carrying farmworkers collided with a pickup truck. One two of the people in the van were wearing seatbelts, officials said.

In another crash in Florida, this one in July 2016, four people were killed when a bus carrying migrant farmworkers crashed into a bus. The National Transportation Safety Board determined that the 5:16 a.m. collision near St. Marks, Fla was caused when a bus driver, likely fatigued after helping pick crops, did not stop at an intersection and collided with the truck. The NTSB also found that the bus company, Billy R. Evans Harvesting, did not exercise adequate safety oversight of the driver. The agency also cited a lack of effective oversight by the Department of Labor and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

"I don't think they would want holes in their baskets, and I don't think they should have holes in the safety net that is there to protect them while they are being transported," NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt said at the time in regard to the farmworkers. "Yet we did find holes in that safety net."

The board also found similar problems in other crashes involving migrant farmworkers in Little Rock, Ark., and Ruther Glen, Va.

In Arkansas, a crash killed six passengers in November 2015. In that accident, a motorcoach traveling from Michigan to Texas struck the underside of an overpass on I-40. The Virginia crash also killed six passengers in June 2016, and involved a 15-passenger van rolling over as it traveled from North Carolina to New Jersey on I-95. Driver fatigue was also cited in those crashes, the NTSB said, and in those crashes the bus drivers also worked in the fields. The Arkansas driver had been on duty for 14 hours before his crash while the Virginia driver had been on duty for 17.5 hours.

“Fatigue was a factor in all three," Sumwalt said in 2016. “It is not enough to be a land of plenty, we must also be a land of safety."

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    About The Author

    • Liz Carey

      Liz Carey has worked as a writer, reporter and editor for nearly 25 years. First, as an investigative reporter for Gannett and later as the Vice President of a local Chamber of Commerce, Carey has covered everything from local government to the statehouse to the aerospace industry. Her work as a reporter, as well as her work in the community, have led her to become an advocate for the working poor, as well as the small business owner.

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