Local

6th body found in West Side canal

A single body that was floating down the Delta Mendota Canal was recovered by Stanislaus County Sheriff's Deputies next to the Shiraz Ranch in Newman, Wednesday afternoon, July 16, 2008. CHP and deputies stand on a bridge just west of Anderson Road. (Bart Ah You/The Modesto Bee)
A single body that was floating down the Delta Mendota Canal was recovered by Stanislaus County Sheriff's Deputies next to the Shiraz Ranch in Newman, Wednesday afternoon, July 16, 2008. CHP and deputies stand on a bridge just west of Anderson Road. (Bart Ah You/The Modesto Bee) Modesto Bee

Victims' families struggled with grief and began making plans for serv- ices Wednesday as California Highway Patrol officers and Stanislaus sheriff's deputies continued to search the Delta- Mendota Canal south of Westley for the last victim of an accident that took the lives of seven people.

The accident occurred Tuesday just after noon, when a Ford Explorer carrying six farmworkers collided with a truck, plunging both vehicles into the canal at Needham Road, southwest of Westley.

The truck driver and all the occupants in the Explorer were killed.

Rescue workers worked into the night Tuesday to recover the vehicles from the canal. The body of the truck driver, Luis Llamas Perez, 45, of Merced, was recovered, along with four occupants of the Explorer: Eulalia Garcia, 34, Isaac Tapia, 16, Adan Martinez, 22, and Elizar Cruz, 19, all of Lodi. Garcia was believed to be the driver of the Explorer.

The body of a sixth victim, 17-year-old Adrianna Garcia of Lodi, was found in the canal, about 10 to 15 miles south of the accident, near Newman on Wednesday morning. Family members identified the body.

The seventh victim, believed to be Lucas Martinez 21, of Lodi, according to relatives, has not been found.

Helicopters flew over the canal to search for the seventh victim, and officers were patrolling the canal, CHP spokesman Mayolo Banuelos said.

A preliminary investigation determined that the Explorer was traveling north on a paved frontage road on the east side of the canal and failed to stop at a stop sign at Needham, Banuelos said. The truck, owned by United Site Services of Sacramento, was traveling west on Needham and was about to cross a bridge over the canal when the collision occurred, Banuelos said. Investigators have not determined the speed of the vehicles, Banuelos said.

Victims from 3 families

The occupants of the Explorer were from three families, according to Luis Magaña, a friend of the families. Adan and Lucas Martinez were brothers, and Eulalia and Adrianna Garcia were sisters, he said. They were working their last day in a nearby peach orchard, and were ready to move north to pick pears in Sacramento County, Magaña said. They were neighbors in Lodi, he said, and were from Guerrero and Chiapas in Mexico.

Llamas Perez was a septic truck driver for United Site Serv- ices and had been servicing portable toilets in an nearby orchard before the accident. He worked for the company for eight years. Llamas Perez was married, with three children.

"We've lost a great family man and dedicated team member," said Kevin Mellifont, regional vice president for California for United Site Services, in a statement.

"Luis Llamas was a tremendous husband, father and long-term employee with United Site Services," Mellifont said. "We are deeply saddened for his loss and our hearts are especially heavy for his wife, Magdalena, and their children. We also extend our sincere sympathy to the families of the other individuals involved in this tragic accident."

Family and friends of the farmworkers were organizing fund-raisers to help pay for funerals and to fly the bodies to Mexico.

"Right now, we're going to ask some friends for help and post signs in the stores to try to ask for donations to have a funeral," said Araceli Martinez, a cousin of Adan and Lucas Martinez. "They are all human beings, and we're here to do something for them."

Adan and Lucas Martinez lived together in Lodi, and sent money to family in Mexico, their cousin said.

"Mexico is a hard life. They came here to try to help their families. Nobody thinks something like this could happen," she said.

Some family members had criticized the speed of the response from the Stanislaus County sheriff's dive team Tuesday. Team members arrived about 70 minutes after they were called, according to a statement from the sheriff's office.

"We do not have a full-time dive unit," sheriff's Capt. Tim David said. "The deputies responded from their homes and their regular duty assignments in various areas around the county."

The dive unit is a recovery team, not a rescue team, said Sgt. Paul Yotsuya, team leader.

"We certainly sympathize with the families and what they are going through," Undersheriff William Heyne said. "Unfortunately, there was nothing that we could have done faster or differently that would have changed this tragic outcome."

The Lodi News-Sentinel and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Bee staff writer Tim Moran can be reached at tmoran@modbee.com or 578-2349.

Related stories from Modesto Bee

  Comments