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Ocala bus crash exposes hurdles in farmworker industry

Palm Beach County nonprofit seeing if any of people it serves affected
Marion County Ocala Bus Crash Scripps Tampa 5-14-24
Posted at 11:24 PM, May 14, 2024
and last updated 2024-05-15 09:02:16-04

PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. — News of the bus crash in Ocala is putting South Florida 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, 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."

The Florida Highway Patrol investigates a deadly bus crash in Marion County, north of Orlando, on May 14, 2024.jpg

State

8 dead, at least 40 injured as farmworkers' bus overturns in Fla.

Associated Press
11:46 AM, May 14, 2024

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," said Negron. "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."

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

Negron said many of the people who the nonprofit serves come from Latin America with work permits.

"It's sometimes for me it's very difficult to see the challenges that they face," said Negron. "I think they deserve respect because, as I said, what they do, nobody wants to do, exposed to everything. 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."

Negron said they don't place farmworkers in jobs but connect them with agencies of people looking to hire.

She said they haven't been informed if any of the victims were one of the people they serve but said if one of the survivors from the 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," said Negron. "Whatever they need, we provide."

News

Pastor helping ID farmworkers in fatal bus crash

By KELLI KENNEDY Associated Press
4:46 PM, Jul 03, 2016

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 that sent nine migrants to the hospital.

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

He said smaller vehicles are often overcrowded and sometimes driven by overtired 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 the cause of the bus crash in Marion County is determined.