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Driver of truck that hit farmworker bus in Florida, killing 8, arrested on DUI charges

Crews from Marion County Fire Rescue and the Marion County Sheriff's Office assist victims after a bus carrying farmworkers crashed and overturned early Tuesday Ocala, Fla.
Marion County Fire Rescue Dept. via AP
Crews from Marion County Fire Rescue and the Marion County Sheriff's Office assist victims after a bus carrying farmworkers crashed and overturned early Tuesday Ocala, Fla.

Updated May 14, 2024 at 17:25 PM ET

OCALA, Fla. — The Florida Highway Patrol has arrested the driver of a pickup truck that crashed into a farmworker bus early Tuesday, killing eight, on charges of driving under the influence-manslaughter.

Bryan Maclean Howard faces eight counts of DUI-Manslaughter, the FHP said in a statement. No further details were released.

Troopers say Howard was driving the 2001 Ford Ranger that crossed into the center line, sideswiping the bus and causing it to veer off the road at about 6:40 a.m. It crashed through a fence and into a tree before overturning. In addition to the eight killed, at least 40 were injured.

It was not immediately known if Howard has an attorney.

The converted school bus was transporting 53 farmworkers at about 6:40 a.m. when it collided with a 2001 Ford Ranger in Marion County, about 80 miles north of Orlando, the Florida Highway Patrol said. The workers had been headed to Cannon Farms in Dunellon, which has been harvesting watermelons.

Emergency personnel work the scene of a deadly crash on Tuesday, in Marion County, Fla. The Florida Highway Patrol says a bus carrying farmworkers overturned, killing several people and injuring other passengers.
/ WFTS via AP
/
WFTS via AP
Emergency personnel work the scene of a deadly crash on Tuesday, in Marion County, Fla. The Florida Highway Patrol says a bus carrying farmworkers overturned, killing several people and injuring other passengers.

FHP Lt. Patrick Riordan said it appears the truck "traveled toward the center line" and the two vehicles sideswiped, causing the bus to swerve off State Road 40, a straight but somewhat hilly two-lane road that passes through horse farms. The bus crashed through a fence, struck a tree and rolled over in a field, Riordan said.

The driver of the pickup was also injured and taken to the hospital, Riordan said.

The bus ended up on its side, with its windows smashed and its emergency rear door and top hatch open. The truck came to a stop at the side of the road, with its air bag blown and extensive damage to its driver's side.

Federal statistics show that vehicle crashes were the leading cause of job-related deaths among farmworkers in 2022, the latest year available. They accounted for 81 of 171 fatalities.

There is no immediate indication that weather was a factor. It also was not immediately not known if the bus had seat belts.

Authorities in several states have been pushing for greater regulations for the safety of farmworkers, who are overwhelmingly migrants. It is unknown if all the workers on the bus were migrants.

The Labor Department announced new seat belt requirements for employer vehicles used for farmworkers on temporary visas, among other worker protections that take effect June 28. The Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association has been opposed, calling the seatbelt requirement "impractical."

State law requires seatbelts for farmworker transport using smaller vehicles, weighing less than 10,000 pounds.

"We will be closed today out of respect to the losses and injuries endured early this morning in the accident that took place to the Olvera Trucking Harvesting Corp.," Cannon Farms announced on its Facebook page. "Please pray with us for the families and the loved ones involved in this tragic accident. We appreciate your understanding at this difficult time."

Cannon Farms describes itself as a family-owned operation that has farmed its land for more than 100 years. The company now focuses on peanuts and watermelons, which it sends to grocery stores across the U.S. and Canada.

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

It wasn't immediately clear if the workers who were on the bus are migrants, but a Department of Labor document shows Olvera recently applied for 43 H-2A workers to harvest watermelons at Cannon Farms this month. The company again offered a base rate of $14.77 an 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 regulatory requirements to bring foreign nationals into the country to fill temporary agricultural jobs. Florida farms employ more H-2A workers than any other state, about 50,000 a year, according to the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association.

Andres Sequra, a director of mission and ministry for AdventHealth hospitals, told reporters that the injured workers who could be visited by chaplains "were in good spirits for what they have been through."

Copyright 2024 NPR

The Associated Press