Mexican citizens were traveling to work on a farm in Florida when a pickup truck crashed into their bus, killing 8 people.

OCALA, Florida (AP) — Mexican citizens were among those going to work at a watermelon farm in Florida on Tuesday when the bus they were traveling in was struck and crashed, killing eight people, authorities said.

Alicia Bárcena, Secretary of Foreign Affairs of Mexico, said Tuesday via the social media platform X that she regrets to report that a tragic car accident occurred in Florida with Mexican farm workers involved. She did not say how many of the more than four dozen people on board were from Mexico.

The Mexican consulate in Orlando was working to obtain more information and provide support, according to a post on X. The Florida Highway Patrol said the names of those who died would be released after next of kin were notified.

The Florida Highway Patrol arrested the driver of a pickup truck that crashed into the farmworker bus. Authorities said Bryan Maclean Howard, 41, faces eight counts of DUI manslaughter for the Tuesday morning crash. No further details were revealed, including what substance allegedly left Howard impaired.

It was not immediately known if Howard has an attorney who can comment on his behalf. Attempts to contact Howard were unsuccessful Tuesday. State records show he has prior arrests for alleged driving with a suspended license, leaving the scene of an accident and possession of marijuana.

Troopers say Howard was driving a 2001 Ford Ranger that crossed into the center line of State Road 40, a two-lane road that passes horse farms. The truck sideswiped the bus, causing it to veer off the road around 6:40 a.m. He went through a fence, hit a tree and then rolled. In addition to the eight dead, at least 40 were injured.

The accident occurred about 80 miles (130 kilometers) north of Orlando as workers were headed to Cannon Farms in Dunnellon. The bus ended up on its side, with its windows broken and the rear emergency door and top hatch open. The truck came to a stop on the side of the road, with its airbag exploding and significant damage to the driver’s side.

Andrés Sequera, director of mission and ministry for AdventHealth hospitals, told reporters that injured workers who were able to be visited by chaplains “were in good spirits because of what they had been through.”

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

No one answered the phone at Olvera Trucking Tuesday afternoon. The company recently announced the hiring of a temporary driver who would transport workers to the watermelon fields and then operate the harvesting equipment. The salary was $14.77 an hour.

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

The H-2A program allows US employers or agents to Comply with certain regulatory requirements. bringing foreign citizens to the country to occupy temporary agricultural jobs. Florida farms employ more H-2A workers than any other state, about 50,000 a year, according to the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association.

“Thank you to everyone who reached out and offered condolences, help and prayers” for the families and loved ones involved in the accident, Cannon Farms posted on its Facebook page, adding that the family-owned operation would remain closed until Wednesday.

Cannon Farms grows peanuts and watermelons, which it ships to grocery stores throughout the United States and Canada.

Federal statistics show that car accidents were the leading cause of work-related deaths among farmworkers in 2022, the latest year available. They accounted for 81 of 171 deaths. It was not immediately known if the bus had seat belts.

Authorities in several states have been pushing for greater regulations for the safety of farm workers, who are mostly immigrants.

The Department of Labor announced new seat belt requirements for employer vehicles used by agricultural workers on temporary visas, among other worker protections that go into effect on June 28. The Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association has objected, calling the seat belt requirement “impractical.”

State law requires safety belts for transporting agricultural workers using smaller vehicles, weighing less than 10,000 pounds.

A GoFundMe campaign organized by the Florida Farm Workers Association to support accident victims and their families had raised about $20,000 of a $50,000 goal as of Tuesday night.

“Farmworkers tend to be forgotten, but it is important not to forget them, especially in such difficult times,” the post said.

Two farmworker advocacy groups issued statements calling for stricter laws to protect them from harm.

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

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

“While accidents will occur, protecting workers while transporting them with mandatory and enforceable safety provisions, such as seat belts and safety inspections, can reduce injuries and deaths,” he said.


Spencer reported from Fort Lauderdale.