A violent crash on a foggy farm-lined road in Stockton that killed five men Tuesday was caused when the driver of one of the vehicles ran a stop sign, according to the California Highway Patrol.
And neither driver involved the crash was licensed to drive, CHP officials said.
Seven men, all farmworkers from the Mexican state of Puebla, were on their way to work inside a silver 1998 Chevrolet Venture minivan about 6:50 a.m., when the vehicle was broadsided by a 2004 Nissan Titan pickup driving about 55 miles per hour on Highway 4, just outside of Farmington.
The crash, which launched the van onto its top and into a nearby vineyard, was caused when the van failed to wait at a stop sign on Van Allen Road before proceeding across Highway 4, CHP’s investigation found. The two men in the truck were Hector Campos, 41, and Hector Carrillo, 30, the vehicle’s driver. They were both wearing seat belts and suffered minor injuries, the CHP reported.
Five men riding in the minivan were pronounced dead Tuesday. They were: Simei Teta-Betancourt, 29; Juan Minas-Rodriguez, 42; Oscar Macario-Nasario, 32; Antonio Ocotino-Morales, 24; and Rudolfo Carrillo, 42, according to the California Highway Patrol.
Initial reports indicated that three people survived the crash, but the CHP said Thursday that four survived: Campos and Hector Carrillo, and Euglogio Rosas and Rodrigo Ramos-Carillo, who were in the van. Rosas, 27, was wearing a seat belt, while Ramos-Carillo, 25, was not, according to the CHP. There was an initial miscount, CHP officials said, because several of the victims were transported in a single ambulance.
CHP Officer James Smith said Rudolfo Carrillo, the van’s driver, absorbed the full impact of the crash and was pronounced dead at the scene.
It was not clear Thursday whether Hector Carrillo would face any charges for driving without a license.
Ramos-Carillo and his five companions who died were partially ejected from the van, hanging out shattered windows on the shoulder of the highway.
All were farmworkers on their way to a day in the field, pruning grapevines, according to witnesses and firefighters who spoke with survivors at the scene.
Heavy fog on the road at the time of the crash, about 6:50 a.m., made visibility beyond 100 to 200 feet next to impossible, CHP officials said.
The U.S. Department of Labor was also investigating the incident to determine whether the farmworkers were being transported by their employers and whether those employers had followed legal safety standards, including ensuring company vehicles are driven by licensed drivers, that they had appropriate insurance, functional headlights and enough working seat belts to accommodate all passengers.
“We enforce labor laws as they apply to migrant and seasonal workers,” said Cesar Avila, with the department’s agriculture division. “If it was a carpool situation, we would still probably meet up with the grower and just discuss the issues with them, probably wouldn’t be liable for it.”
Witnesses and firefighters who responded to the crash said Tuesday that the pickup belonged to a nearby nursery: Valley Crest Tree Company. Officials there have declined to comment.
“Unfortunately, in situations where we find out that workers are being transported, the vehicles that are used don’t always meet our standards,” Avila said. “These accidents are problematic because one life lost is too much.”
Mexican Consul General Carlos González Gutiérrez said Tuesday that consular officials had contacted the victims’ relatives and offered financial assistance to send the remains of their family members to Mexico.
Foggy conditions on Highway 4 may also have contributed to another crash early Thursday, in which a semitrailer and pickup collided along Stockton Street and Highway 4.
The driver of the pickup, who was not immediately identified, was killed on impact.