Driver of pickup that collided with farmworker bus in Florida, killing 8, is arrested on DUI charges

OCALA, Fla. (AP) — 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, 41, faces eight counts of DUI-Manslaughter, the FHP said in a statement. No further details were released, including what substance allegedly left Howard impaired.

Troopers said he was driving the 2001 Ford Ranger when it crossed into the center line on State Road 40, a straight but somewhat hilly two-lane road that passes through horse farms. The truck sideswiped the bus, 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, and no phone numbers for family members could be found. According to state records, Howard has previous arrests for driving with a suspended license, leaving the scene of an accident and marijuana possession.

The accident happened in Marion County, about 80 miles (130 kilometers) north of Orlando. The workers had been headed to Cannon Farms in Dunnellon, which has been harvesting watermelons. 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 the 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. It 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 Mexican consulate in Orlando said it was making help available to any of the workers who are from its country.

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 called the seat belt requirement "impractical."

State law requires seat belts 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. It is about 8 miles (13 kilometers) from the crash site.

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

A Labor Department 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.

Guatemala's government initially said some of its citizens were involved in the crash but retracted that Tuesday night, saying a report on an accident from the consulate in Chicago had been confused with the Florida crash. Goldin López de Bonilla, spokesperson for the Foreign Affairs Ministry, said the Central American nation was still waiting to hear whether any of its citizens were involved in the Florida crash.

Alicia Bárcena, Mexico's foreign relations secretary, said via the social media platform X, "I am sorry to report that a tragic automotive accident happened in Florida with Mexican agricultural workers involved."

The Mexican Consulate in Orlando was on the scene, she said, to provide support.

Andres Sequera, 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."

"We were able to provide support, presence, prayer when it was asked of us," he said.

A GoFundMe campaign organized by the Farmworker Association of Florida to support accident victims and their families had raised about $5,000 of a $50,000 goal by Tuesday evening.

"Farmworkers tend to be forgotten, but it's important not to forget farmworkers, especially during such difficult times," the post said.

Two groups that advocate for farmworkers issued statements calling for stricter laws to protect them from harm.

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

Ty Joplin of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers said transportation laws for farmworkers are often unenforced.

"While accidents will happen, protecting workers while transporting them with mandatory and enforceable safety provisions, like seat belts and safety inspections, can reduce injuries and deaths," he said.


Spencer reported from Fort Lauderdale. Associated Press writer Sonia Pérez D. in Guatemala City contributed.


This story has been updated to make clear the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association stance on a Department of Labor seatbelt requirement for employer vehicles used for farmworkers on temporary visas. While the association had asked in a public comment that the overall rulemaking changes by the federal government be withdrawn, on the seatbelt requirement, the association merely said it was impractical from a compliance perspective.


This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Andres Sequera's last name and the city of Dunnellon. It has also been updated with Guatemala retracting a statement about some of its citizens being involved in the crash, with the country saying an accident in Chicago was confused with the one in Florida.


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