June 22, 2024

A migrant worker from Mexico died at a North Carolina farm earlier this month on a day when temperatures approached 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and his death is now being investigated by the state’s labor department.

Paramedics responded to Barnes Farming in Spring Hope after receiving a call of a person in cardiac or respiratory arrest, according to according to a report from Nash County Emergency Services. The farm is about 40 miles east of Raleigh.

José Arturo Gónzalez Mendoza died at the farm, according to an initial statement from Barnes Farming that CNN obtained from affiliate WRAL.

The EMS report says the worker was affected by excessive heat and describes his condition as “HOT.” However, the agency could not confirm with CNN the exact cause of death.

Gónzalez Mendoza died just days after he started working at the farm, according to the initial statement from Barnes Farming.

On September 5, he was harvesting sweet potatoes when he told his field supervisor that he was not feeling well and went to rest on a bus used for worker transportation to the farm’s fields, the statement said.

The supervisor, along with an HR manager, called 911 after checking on Gónzalez Mendoza, according to the statement.

That day, Nash County experienced highs in the upper 90s, according to the National Weather Service. The week was also riddled with highs of mid to upper 90s, and a heat index of 104 degrees by the mid-week mark.

Barnes Farming could not identify a cause of death but said that state authorities are currently performing an autopsy.

Barnes Farming’s attorney, Marie Scott, told CNN in an email that the initial statement Barnes Farming sent to local media outlets was not being used by the company anymore. Instead, she sent another statement without any of the original information detailing the circumstances of Gónzalez Mendoza’s death.

In the new statement, the company said it “takes the health and safety of each one of its team members extremely seriously and has prioritized health and safety since the Farm was started.”

They went on to say, “Each Barnes Farming team member is vital to the Company, to the community, and to the global food supply and, as a Company and a family of devoted team members, we are deeply saddened by the loss of Mr. Gonzalez Mendoza.”

Barnes Farming was subject to multiple investigations by the state’s Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Division.

The company was subject to two separate inspections in 2020 and 2019, the first related to hazardous chemicals and the second related to insufficient toilet and hand washing facilities, according to the department. In both cases, Barnes Farming paid their penalties in full.

Casa Azul de Wilson, a local Latino community nonprofit, organized a GoFundMe fundraiser that has raised over $10,700 in donations to provide financial aid to Gónzalez Mendoza’s family.

Gónzalez Mendoza was originally from Guanajuato, Mexico, and leaves behind a wife and two young children, according to the fundraiser.

Flor Herrera-Picasso, executive director of Casa Azul de Wilson, told CNN that when they saw what happened at the farm, the organization wanted to help.

“They should be held accountable for these critical conditions so that this doesn’t happen again,” said Herrera-Picasso.

Herrera-Picasso said Barnes Farming has previously mistreated workers by providing them with just 20-minute lunch breaks, as well as refusing to give water breaks to those who work out on the fields.

CNN reached out to Barnes Farming for comment but has not heard back.

Barnes Farming is working with the North Carolina Growers Association to take care of “expenses related to his death and funeral,” they said in their original statement.

The company will also take care of returning Gónzalez Mendoza’s body to Mexico for burial, according to Herrera-Picasso.

The Mexican consulate in Raleigh did not answer CNN’s requests for comment.

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