Five Points, CA Crash Kills 13, Aug 1999



The Associated Press.
Five Points, Calif. - A van loaded with farm workers driven by an unlicensed driver slammed into a truck on a remote road in the early-morning darkness Monday, killing 13 people and renewing worries about the safety of laborers who often cram into vehicles to get to work in the fields.
The 1983 Dodge Ram van smashed like an accordion on impact. Most of the 10 men and five women in the van were sitting without seat belts on two carpeted benches installed on each side, California Highway Patrol (CHP) Officer Brian Yokley said.
It's illegal in California to have anyone ride without proper seats and seat belts, but certified farm vehicles are excluded from the law. The van received its last annual certification in 1997, but had not been certified since, the highway patrol said.
The van's driver was among those killed. Two other passengers were injured. Authorities did not identify them.
One of the injured survivors, a 17-year-old girl, was in critical condition. The other, a man, was in serious condition.
The Mexican government agency Notimex said the Mexican consulate in Fresno confirmed that the 13 dead farm workers were Mexicans. No one was available at the consulate Monday afternoon for further comment.
The driver didn't have a license and his driving privileges had been revoked because of several violations, CHP Officer Eric Erickson said. He had been cited for not wearing a seat belt and not having a license, and was once arrested for drunken driving. Officer Erickson said there was no conviction for the DUI, but it wasn't clear why.
The truck driver, who wasn't injured, had a clean driving record. He was turning his rig around on the two-lane road after parking on the shoulder to sleep, Officer Erickson said. The rig's two trailers were empty.
The van "couldn't avoid hitting the tractor-trailer," Officer Erickson said.
"Their brakes locked up."
The van was going at least 55 mph, and the skid marks were 50 to 80 feet long, the officer said. The accident happened shortly after 5 a.m., just southeast of this tiny town in Fresno County. The laborers had just gotten off work sorting tomatoes in the fields, Officer Erickson said.
In central California's agricultural heartland, farm workers are often transported in crowded vans - a problem that has contributed to a disproportionate traffic death rate among Hispanics in the area.
Yolanda Cervantes, who organizes an annual driver safety awareness program in nearby Mendota, said most farm workers have no alternatives but to ride in crowded vans.
"Something has to change because every time you see these you don't have one death, you have multiple deaths," Ms. Cervantes said. "I've seen too many."

Cincinnati Enquirer Ohio 1999-08-10