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Farm Laborers' Families Sue After Fatal Truck Crash

August 14, 1999

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The families of 13 farm laborers killed when their van crashed into a tractor-trailer in California last Monday are suing the driver and two trucking companies - despite the fact that the driver of the farm van was unlicensed and there were 15 farm workers crammed into a van with no seat belts.

The truck, facing eastbound on the highway just south of Five Points, CA, reportedly was making a U-turn about 5 a.m. from the right dirt shoulder, where he had stopped to sleep. The eastbound van's brakes locked up when it tried to stop, and the van hit between the front and rear trailers of the doubles unit. Police are still investigating whether the truck driver was at fault. Apparently there is some question as to whether the van's lights were on, making it nearly invisible at that hour to the truck driver.
The lawsuit, filed Thursday in Fresno County Superior Court, names truck driver Adrian Erazo; Raul H. Oropeza, the sole proprietor of Oropeza Trucking; and Hoffman Bros. Harvesting Inc. of Tracy, CA, owner of the trailers.
The families' attorney hopes to use the lawsuit to address farm worker transportation problems in court.
Most of the 10 men and five women inside the 1983 Dodge Ram were sitting without seat belts on two carpeted benches installed on each side. It is illegal in California to have anyone ride without proper seats and seat belts - but certified farm vehicles are exempt.
The van's driver, who was among those killed, had his license revoked because of several violations. The truck driver, who was not injured, had a clean driving record.

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