Saffron Restaurants reservation The driver of a pickup truck that collided with a farmworker bus in Florida, killing eight people, is arrested on charges of driving under the influence

The driver of a pickup truck that collided with a farmworker bus in Florida, killing eight people, is arrested on charges of driving under the influence

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This photo from the Marion County Fire Rescue Dept. shows a bus carrying 53 farm workers that crashed and overturned Tuesday, May 14, 2024, near Ocala, Florida, north of Orlando. (Marion County Fire Department via AP)

The Florida Highway Patrol has arrested the driver of a pickup truck that crashed into a farm worker’s bus early Tuesday, killing eight people, on charges of drunken driving and manslaughter.

Bryan Maclean Howard, 41, faces eight counts of DUI manslaughter, the FHP said in a statement. No further details have been released, including what substance Howard allegedly affected.

Troopers said he was driving the 2001 Ford Ranger when it crossed the center line on State Road 40, a straight but somewhat hilly two-lane road that passes horse farms. The truck hit the bus sideways, causing it to leave the road around 6:40 am. He crashed through a fence and into a tree before falling over. In addition to the eight deaths, at least forty were injured.

It was not immediately known if Howard has an attorney and no phone numbers for family members could be found. Howard has prior arrests for driving with a suspended license, leaving the scene of an accident and possession of marijuana, according to state records.

The accident happened in Marion County, about 80 miles north of Orlando. The workers were headed to Cannon Farms in Dunnellon, where watermelons were being harvested. The bus ended up on its side, the windows were smashed and the emergency rear door and top hatch open. The truck came to a stop on the side of the road, causing the airbag to explode and causing extensive damage to the driver’s side.

Federal statistics show that vehicle crashes were the leading cause of work-related deaths among farmworkers in 2022, the latest year available. They were responsible for 81 of the 171 fatalities. It was not immediately known whether the bus had seat belts.

Authorities in several states have pushed for stricter rules for the safety of farm workers, the vast majority of whom are migrants. It is not known whether all workers on the bus were migrants. The Mexican Consulate in Orlando said it is making assistance available to all workers from the country.

The Labor Department has announced new seat belt requirements for employer vehicles used by agricultural workers on temporary visas, in addition to other worker protections that take effect June 28. The Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association is opposed, calling the seat belt requirement “impractical.”

State law requires seat belts for transporting farmworkers in smaller vehicles, those weighing less than 10,000 pounds.

“We will be closed today out of respect for the losses and injuries we suffered early this morning in the accident that occurred at the Olvera Trucking Harvesting Corp.,” Cannon Farms announced on its Facebook page. “Please join us in praying for the families and loved ones involved in this tragic accident. We appreciate your understanding during this difficult time.”

Cannon Farms describes itself as a family business that has farmed its land for more than 100 years. The company is now focusing on peanuts and watermelons, which it ships to supermarkets in the US and Canada. It is approximately eight miles from the crash site.

No one answered the phone at Olvera Trucking on Tuesday afternoon. The company recently advertised for a temporary driver who would bus workers to the watermelon fields and operate harvesting equipment. The wage was $14.77 per hour.

A Labor Department document shows that Olvera recently asked 43 H-2A workers to harvest watermelons at Cannon Farms this month. The company again offered a base rate of $14.77 per hour, with promises of housing and transportation to and from the fields.

The H-2A program allows U.S employers or agents who meet certain legal requirements to bring foreigners into the country to fill temporary agricultural jobs. According to the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association, Florida farms employ more H-2A workers than any other state, about 50,000 per year.

Guatemala’s government initially said some of its citizens were involved in the crash, but backed down Tuesday evening, saying an accident report from the Chicago consulate was confused with the Florida crash. Foreign Ministry spokesman Goldin López de Bonilla said the Central American country was still waiting to hear whether its citizens were involved in the Florida crash.

Alicia Bárcena, the Mexican Minister of Foreign Affairs, said this via the social media platform X“I regret to report that there has been a tragic car accident in Florida involving Mexican farm workers.”

The Mexican Consulate in Orlando was on site, she said, to provide support.

Andres Sequera, director of mission and ministry at AdventHealth Hospitals, told reporters that the injured workers who were able to be visited by chaplains were “in good spirits about what they experienced.”

“We were able to provide support, presence and prayer when it was asked of us,” he said.

A GoFundMe campaign organized by the Farmworker Association of Florida to support accident victims and their families had raised about $5,000 of a $50,000 goal as of Tuesday evening.

“Farmworkers are often forgotten, but it is important not to forget farmworkers, especially during such difficult times,” the post said.

Two groups advocating for farmworkers released statements calling for stricter laws to protect them from harm.

“It’s too easy to dismiss this as just another accident,” said Asia Clermont, executive director of the League of United Latin American Citizens in Florida. “Florida must take every step possible to protect its essential workers, who are people and the backbone of the state’s economy.”

Ty Joplin of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers said transportation laws for farmworkers are often not enforced.

“While accidents will happen, protecting workers during transportation with mandatory and enforceable safety features, such as seat belts and safety inspections, can reduce injuries and deaths,” he said.