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Kerman farmworkers killed in crash are returned to Mexico as friends, family grieve

From Left: Victor Hernandez, Roberto Flores, Pedro Ojeda, Jubenal Talavera, Hector Orozco, Fidel Ojeda, Alfredo Morales.
Collage by Cresencio Rodriguez-Delgado
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KVPR
From Left: Victor Hernandez,  Roberto Flores, Pedro Ojeda, Jubenal Talavera, Hector Orozco, Fidel Ojeda, Alfredo Morales.

KERMAN, Calif. – Friends and families in the San Joaquin Valley said their final goodbye to seven farmworkers killed in a crash last month as all of the men have been returned to Mexico for burial.

In late February, the men were heading to work near Firebaugh when their van was reportedly struck by a pickup truck. Eight men – including the driver of the truck – died on the scene, while one was left severely injured.

On Saturday, a traditional Catholic Mass was held for the men at Kerman High School. The ceremony gathered more than 700 people who wanted to pay their respects.

A day later, music flowed through Kerckhoff Park in Kerman — where hundreds gathered for a second day of public mourning and remembrance. Dozens danced along to the lively music, while others waved lit candlesticks.

“We've had a lot of somber moments together as we were going through this,” Kerman Mayor Maria Pacheco told KVPR.

Hundreds attended a vigil in Kerman on Sunday, March 10, 2024, for seven farmworkers killed in a crash
Esther Quintanilla
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KVPR
Hundreds attended a vigil in Kerman on Sunday, March 10, 2024, for seven farmworkers killed in a crash

On the day of the crash, Fidel and Pedro Ojeda, Juvenal Talavera, Victor Hernandez, Alfredo Morales, Roberto Flores, Hector Orozco and Benito Perez were on their morning commute to work on a vineyard farm.

The California Highway Patrol suspects the driver of the pickup truck crossed the median and slammed into the workers' van. Perez was the sole survivor.

“It's devastating,” Pacheco said, “They were very young, most of them very young, with their whole lives ahead of them.”

She said the vigil was “about a celebration of life” for the men who died.

“People grieve in different ways,” Pacheco said.“We have to be able to move on as a community to collect ourselves together, bring ourselves back together, remember that life is precious.”

Pacheco is part of the organization FUERZA – a coalition of various community leaders – which helped organize the vigil. The organization helped raise more than $13,000 for families of the men. The funds were distributed evenly.

Esther Quintanilla reports on diverse communities for KVPR through the Central Valley News Collaborative, which includes The Fresno Bee, Vida en el Valle, KVPR and Radio Bilingüe.