FORT MEADE, Fla. (WFLA) — At least one person was killed and 10 more injured after a bus carrying grove workers crashed head-on into a semi-tanker truck along US-98 in Polk County Monday.
According to Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd, a migrant labor bus carrying 38 people was headed westbound just after 6 a.m. when it crossed over the center line in the area of US-98 East and Adams Road and struck a semi-truck head-on.
According to the sheriff, the workers were on their way to harvest strawberries in Plant City.
Judd said the tanker, which was carrying an estimated 8,400 pounds of unleaded gasoline, sustained a small leak, but the fuel was in the process of being offloaded while the tanker remained in the grove.
Deputies said one worker was killed in the incident. Nine others aboard the bus were transported to several area hospitals including Lakeland Regional Health Medical Center, Sebring Hospital, Lake Wales Hospital, and Tampa General Hospital.
The driver of the tanker was rushed to Bartow Regional Medical Center with less serious injuries, the sheriff’s office said.
“All crashes are gut-wrenching, but when you see that there’s a group of folks who were on their way to do hard work that most of society won’t do so that we have the ability to have fresh fruit, and for reasons unknown at this point of the investigation, the driver careens into another vehicle, it’s very sad,” the sheriff said.
Judd said the bus was owned by Overlook Harvesting in Winter Haven.
News Channel 8 has reached out to Overlook Harvesting for comment and has not yet heard back.
“We’ll notify DCF and [the worker’s] home country of origin so if they’re not from the United States so they can receive services from them as well,” the sheriff said.
The roadway was closed as first responders cleared the scene. It has since reopened to the public.
“They come to work for these farmers that cannot find people to do the work, to pick the strawberries, to pick the blueberries, to pick the citrus. So these are the people that come and do the work. And these people are very vulnerable people,” said Isabel Leo’N, program director of Polk County Public Schools Farm Worker Career Development Program.
Leo’N said many migrant workers are hired through the H-2A visa program.
“The farmers are the ones who have the contract and they provide housing assistance and they have the busing, the transportation, where they take them from the housing wherever they’re at to their work location,” Leo’N added.