Monday, May 20

Ocala bus crash exposes hurdles in farmworker industry

News of the bus crash in Ocala is putting local organizations like the Farmworker Coordinating Council of Palm Beach County on alert.

The nonprofit is working to see if any of the people they serve have been impacted by the crash.

“I was devastated to see that, very tragic,” said Denise Negron the executive director for Farmworker Coordinating Council of Palm Beach County. ” I would like to begin by sending our thoughts and prayers to all the families impacted by this accident, very sad.

Negron said for farmworkers a bus ride to work is part of their daily routine.

“Can you explain how farmworkers here in Palm Beach County find work?” asked WPTV reporter Joel Lopez.

“They wake up every morning, they try to find work and that’s what they do, you know. they wait in the corner, try to go to a field and if they are lucky enough to be chosen, they will go either in a bus or a pickup,” said Negron.

She said many farmworkers move from state to state following the crops of the season.

The non-profit says many people they serve come from Latin America with work permits.

“It’s sometimes for me it’s very difficult to see the challenges that they face I think they deserve respect because as I said what they do nobody wants to do and exposed to everything,” said Negron. “The environment as you know the weather here is terrible sometimes it can be very cold, it can be very hot and they continue to work so thanks to them we have food on our tables.”

The nonprofit said they don’t place farmworkers in jobs but connect them with agencies of people looking to hire.

They said they haven’t been informed if any of the victims were one of the people they serve but say if one of the survivors from today’s crash is local, they hope to connect them with legal resources, health care and more.

“That’s why we as an agency try to make sure they get access to services because most of them don’t get it anywhere and they are afraid to go out and we at least are an agency that they feel comfortable and safe so we do the best for them trying to make sure they get all the social services like food, rental assistance, transportation, whatever they need we provide,” said Negron.

According to Floridahealth.org, up to 200,000 migrant and seasonal farm workers and their families travel and work here in the Sunshine State every year.

“Vehicles that are just not maintained properly,” said attorney Bill Zoeller who said the roads have not been safer for migrants citing a crash in Fort Pierce a decade ago which sent nine migrants to the hospital.

Zoeller says these crashes often happen in rickety buses and vans that ride on bald tires, with faulty steering.

He says smaller vehicles are often overcrowded and sometimes driven by over-tired drivers on busy roads.

“Why does it seem to happen to migrants at a higher per capita rate than the population as a whole?” asked WPTV investigative reporter Dave Bohman.

“The farms are not paying them a lot of money so they’re not spending a lot of money on transportation,” said Zoeller. “They’re not going to spend a lot of money sending them from point-A to point-B to pick strawberries in the field, or whatever it might be.”

Zoeller said the farms that employ them, and state lawmakers need to do more to make their transportation to and from the fields, safer.

It could be days before we know the cause of the bus crash in Marion County.

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