Family of teen heat stroke death victim launching campaign to demand judge reject plea bargain deal
Thursday, Feb. 10, at 10:30 a.m. Family of teen heat stroke death victim launching campaign to demand judge reject plea bargain deal
Stockton, CA – Relatives and the fiancé of the 17-year-old female farm worker who died from heat stroke after working in the fields for nine hours under the scorching sun in 2008 will join the United Farm Workers in launching a campaign urging a San Joaquin County judge to dismiss a plea bargain for two of three defendants in her case during a news conference outside the county courthouse in Stockton on Thursday, Feb. 10, at 10:30 a.m.
It is part of a month-long drive to persuade San Joaquin County Judge Michael Garrigan to reject a plea bargain from two of the three defendants in the Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez case. They were charged with felonies for contributing to Maria Isabel’s death. The family wants the defendants to be held accountable and go to jail for their role in the 17-year-old’s death instead of just receiving probation and community service.
On May 14, 2008, Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez passed out after working nearly nine hours at a vineyard in Farmington. The only water provided to farm workers that hot day was in five-gallon cans at the far corners of the field, a 10-minute walk for some laborers. Instead of calling emergency responders, an employee of Merced Farm Labor Contractors instructed Jimenez’s fiancé and the father of her unborn child, Florentino Bautista, to take her to a clinic in Lodi. Jimenez's core temperature was 108 degrees on a day the high temperature reached 95 degrees and California's occupational safety agency issued a heat-danger warning to employers.
Jimenez lost her child and died two days later. In January, both the defense and district attorneys agreed to a plea bargain for defendants Maria De Los Angeles Colunga, ex-owner of the now closed Merced Farm Labor Contractors, and her brother, Elias Armenta. The third defendant Raul Martinez, the crew foreman, fled the country. They are accused of failing to provide Jimenez with access to a nearby source of drinking water, shade from the sun, training in how to recognize symptoms of heat illness, and swift medical attention—all required under California’s heat regulation issued in 2005 by Gov. Schwarzenegger after a campaign by the UFW.
According to media reports, a plea deal has been reached in which the defendants may avoid incarceration. Colunga agreed to plea to a misdemeanor with a 3-year probation and 40 hours of community service for failing to provide shade for outdoor workers. Armenta will plead to a felony count of violating a health or safety regulation resulting in the death of a worker. That charge carries up to five years probation, 400 hours of community service and a $1,000 fine.The UFW and Jimenez’s relatives are petitioning for the judge to decline the plea bargain deal.
WHO: Maria Isabel’s former fiancé, Florentino Bautista, Maria Isabel’s uncle, Doroteo Jimenez, Pastor Bill Ruth, Livingston Lutheran Church, and Merlyn Calderon, UFW national vice president.
WHAT: A news conference to announce appeals by Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez’s family and the UFW urging a San Joaquin County Superior Court judge to refuse a plea bargain in the criminal case against two of the three people accused of involuntary manslaughter in the heat stroke death in 2008 of 17-year-old farm worker Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez.
WHEN: Thursday, Feb. 10, 10:30 a.m.
WHERE: In front of the San Joaquin County Superior Court, 222 E. Weber Avenue, Stockton, CA, 95202
Press Conference for Maria Isabel Vazquez Jimenez Thursday, February 10, 2011 @ 10:30am
Good afternoon and thank you for being here today. My name is Merlyn Calderon, National Vice President for the UFW.
Cesar Chavez once asked, "What is the worth of a man or a woman? What is the life of a farm worker worth?"
Apparently, Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez's life is not worth very much in the courtroom of Judge Michael Garrigan. Why is that so?
Because Maria Isabel was a farm worker?
Because Maria Isabel was only 17 years old when she needlessly died?
Because Maria Isabel was an immigrant from Mexico?
Cesar Chavez answered his own questions in a eulogy for 19 farm workers who died in another senseless bus accident in 1974:
Such acts "happen," Cesar said, "because employers and labor contractors treat us as if we were not important human beings.
"But brothers and sisters, [we] are important human beings. [Farm workers] are important because they are from us. We cherish them. We love them. We will miss them.
"They are important because of the love they gave to their husbands, their children, their wives, their parents--all those who were close to them and who needed them.
"They are important because of the work they do. They are not implements to be used and discarded. They are human beings who sweat and sacrifice to bring food to the tables of millions and millions of people throughout the world.
"They are important because God made them, gave them life, and cares for them in life and in death."
They are the reason we are here today. The laws on the books are not the laws in the fields. As many farm workers have died due to heat illness since Governor Schwarzenegger enacted emergency heat illness regulations as did in the immediate years before Governor Schwarzenegger enacted the regulation.
The tragic killing of seventeen year old farm worker Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez in 2008 is one of many terrible examples of how farm workers experience the law in California.
Maria's death is so hard to accept, because it didn’t need to happen. The labor contractors did not even observe the most basic heat laws. This was not a onetime occurrence. In 2006, Merced Farm Labor was fined for failure to have a written heat stress prevention plan and training for workers. They never paid the fine. Cal-OSHA never bothered to inspect the farm again.
Some of the company officials responsible for the death of pregnant 17-year-old Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez, have reportedly reached a plea bargain with San Joaquin County District Attorney James P. Willett. If the deal is approved by a judge at a hearing scheduled for March 9, neither will spend a single day in jail.
The Sacramento Bee quotes Deputy District Attorney Lester Fleming explaining the plea deal in the following way: “While they (the Farm Labor Contractors) were intellectually aware of the dangers, I don't think anyone was taking the heat regulations very seriously because they were only implemented in 2005."
The human beings who torture their bodies, sacrifice their youth, and numb their spirits to produce California’s great agricultural wealth, a wealth so vast that it feeds all of America and much of the world, deserve better.
The UFW is launching a campaign, with the family, urging Judge Michael Garrigan, to dismiss a plea bargain for two of three defendants in her case and convict them to the fullest extent of the law.
We already have thousands of emails and hundreds of calls from supporters into the DA's office and today, the family and UFW are meeting with DA Willett, at 1:30pm. On Monday, March 7th, in this very spot, beginning at 7am, we will hold a community vigil to pray that the Judge will hear this message and act on it.
I'm joined here by two courageous leaders that I'd like to introduce. The first is Doroteo Jimenez, uncle of Maria Isabel Vazquez Jimenez. 15 farm worker families have experienced what Doroteo's family has in the last few years but Doroteo's courage and determination stands out- he led with the UFW a 4 day pilgrimage, lost his job when he was talking to the previous Governor's office and has lost hours of work to sacrifice knowing that his niece will not come back.
Next I want to introduce Florentino Bautista, Maria's fiance, who held Maria in her last living moments in the fields, continues to stand by the family to insure that Maria did not die in vain.
Our work would not be possible without the support from the community- especially the faith community. Today, we have Pastor Ruth and Father Dean. I'd like to invite them to share some words as well.
This concludes our press conference. Do you have any questions?