On May 14, the official temperature was 95 degrees; it was even hotter inside the wine grape vineyard owned by West Coast Grape Farming, east of Stockton, where Maria and her fiancé, Florentino Bautista, worked. Maria had been working for nine hours.
At 3:40 p.m. Maria became dizzy. She didn’t know where she was and didn’t recognize Florentino. Maria passed out. Florentino helplessly held her in his arms.
There was no water for the workers from 6 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. When water arrived, it was a 10-minute walk from where Maria was working, too far to access. There was no shade or training for foremen and workers about what to do if someone became ill from the heat—as required by law.
The foreman came over and stood four or five feet away, staring at the couple for about five minutes. He said, “Oh, that’s what happens to people, but don’t worry. If you apply some rubbing alcohol to her, it will go away.” It didn’t.
After a number of delays Maria was taken to a clinic. On the in Lodi, the foreman called on the driver’s cell phone and spoke to Florentino. “If you take her to a clinic,” the foreman said, “don’t say she was working [for the contractor]. Say she became sick because she was jogging to get exercise. Since she’s underage, it will create big problems for us.”
They arrived at the clinic at 5:15 p.m., more than an hour and a half after Maria was stricken. She was so sick an ambulance took her to the hospital. Doctors said her temperature upon arrival was 108.4 degrees, far beyond what the human body can take.
Maria’s heart stopped six times in the next two days before she passed away on Friday.
Doctors said if emergency medical help had been summoned or she had been taken to the hospital sooner, she might have survived.
It is hard for Maria’s family and her fiancé, Florentino, to accept her death, knowing it could have been prevented.
Florentino, said, “There should be justice for what happened. It wasn’t just. It wasn’t fair what they did.”
The grief that fills our hearts today inspires our work tomorrow.