April 24, 2009


Manslaughter charges filed in 2008 death of 17-year-old farmworker

STOCKTON – San Joaquin County District Attorney James P. Willett filed involuntary manslaughter charges today against former operators of Merced Farm Labor in the case of 17-year-old Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez, who died of a heat stroke May 16 two days after collapsing in a Farmington vineyard under the contractor’s supervision.

Those charged are Maria De Los Angeles Colunga, owner of the former labor contractor company; Elias Armenta, its former safety director; and Raul Martinez, a former supervisor. They face one felony and five misdemeanor charges for failing to provide Jimenez with reasonable access to potable water, shade, heat illness training and prompt medical attention, according to the complaint.

On May 14, 2008, the pregnant Jimenez had been working nine hours when she collapsed on the work site. According to Jimenez’s family, she was released to her boyfriend who had been working along side of her. They said he drove her to a Lodi hospital.

Jimenez died of a heat stroke two days later in the hospital, the county coroner confirmed.

Her death sparked an aggressive enforcement program championed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and applauded by farm worker advocates. Numerous other farm labor contractors were cited during the sweeps for failing to provide shade, water and training and also for employing underage workers.

Also today, the county filed a civil enforcement action linking De Los Angeles Colunga and the farm’s owner, West Coast Grape Farming, Inc., to violations of California labor laws.

The civil complaint alleges that both companies violated numerous state labor laws and engaged in unfair business practices.

The contractor’s state license has since been revoked and the state assessed De Los Angels Colunga more than $200,000 in labor violation fines.