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8 killed in crash involving farmworker van outside Madera

The California Highway Patrol responded to Ave. 7, west of Road 22, in Madera County for a crash that killed eight people on Friday, Feb. 23, 2024.
The California Highway Patrol responded to Ave. 7, west of Road 22, in Madera County for a crash that killed eight people on Friday, Feb. 23, 2024.

MADERA, Calif. – An early morning crash left eight men dead on Friday along a rural stretch of road in the agricultural San Joaquin Valley where a van carrying farmworkers on their way to work and a pickup truck collided.

California Highway Patrol spokesperson Javier Ruvalcaba said the crash happened shortly after 6 a.m. on Avenue 7 near Road 22, southwest of the City of Madera.

He said a Chevrolet pickup truck collided head-on with a GMC van.

All but one man in the van and the driver of the pickup truck were killed. The remaining passenger in the van was transported to Community Regional Medical Center in Fresno with major injuries.

The farmworkers worked for Lion Farms, according to Ruvalcaba. Six of the passengers were reportedly not wearing seatbelts, and many were ejected from the vehicle at the time of the crash.

California State Assemblymember Esmeralda Soria, whose district includes Madera County, called the crash a tragedy.

“Traveling on rural single lane roads, farmworkers sometimes face road conditions with reduced visibility due to rain or fog which threatens their safety,” she said.

Crash mirrors others around the country

United Farm Workers spokesperson Antonio De Loera-Brust said accidents like Friday's happen all too often across the country. He recalled similar traffic accidents in 2023 killed seven farmworkers in Oregon and injured 11 in Wyoming.

Although the Madera County crash occurred outside of work hours in what was likely a private vehicle, a Department of Labor analysis of 2020 data showed that transportation-related incidents caused nearly half of all on-the-job fatalities among agricultural workers.

Farmworkers across the San Joaquin Valley typically make early morning commutes and drive far distances to their worksites.

“It’s worth understanding these not simply as accidents, but part of the human cost of the agricultural economy,” said De Loera-Brust.

Witnesses told investigators the driver of the pickup truck had been weaving around the road and had clipped the rearview mirror of another vehicle shortly before the fatal collision.

Investigators can not say whether alcohol or other substances were involved until the county coroner’s office releases a toxicology report on the driver.

Authorities were notifying family members of those killed before releasing their identities.

KVPR's Cresencio Rodriguez-Delgado contributed reporting.

Kerry Klein is an award-winning reporter whose coverage of public health, air pollution, drinking water access and wildfires in the San Joaquin Valley has been featured on NPR, KQED, Science Friday and Kaiser Health News. Her work has earned numerous regional Edward R. Murrow and Golden Mike Awards and has been recognized by the Association of Health Care Journalists and Society of Environmental Journalists. Her podcast Escape From Mammoth Pool was named a podcast “listeners couldn’t get enough of in 2021” by the radio aggregator NPR One.