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  • Ocala Star Banner

    Hundreds turn out Friday at vigil for the 8 farm workers killed Tuesday in Marion County

    By Austin L. Miller, Ocala Star-Banner,


    A bus carrying 53 farmworkers to work on March 14 overturned on the outskirts of a large horse farm less than a mile from Southwest 148th Court in Dunnellon killing eight people.

    Hearing the news, Roberto Marquez left his Texas home and drove to the crash sight with the intention of making the spot where those who lost their lives and were injured into something different. Hour by hour, Marquez's vision, with assistance from the community, began to take shape.

    An hour before a Friday night candlelight vigil started to remember the eight people who died in the crash, Marquez's transformation was evident. What was once a place of sadness was now filled with art, bright colors and pictures.

    A sea of people who traveled far and wide to pay their respects smiled through tears at what they saw.

    Pleased with the reactions, Marquez, greeting people as he made his way from one end to the next on Friday, said, "We're united. We care. Our brothers are in pain. Know for sure, we won't leave them alone."

    About the crash

    According to the FHP, shortly before 6:45 a.m. on March 14, the bus was traveling west on State Road 40 on its way to Cannon Farms in Dunnellon. An older model pickup truck headed east on the roadway entered the bus' lane, sideswiping it.

    The bus veered off the road, hit a wooden fence and two trees, then turned over.

    Troopers said eight of the 53 died, another eight were critically injured, and the rest either were injured or escaped unharmed. The wreck was Marion County's deadliest and most impactful fatal crash in recent memory.

    The driver of the pickup, Bryan Mclean Howard , was taken to a local hospital for treatment of his injuries. Questioned by troopers, Howard said he smoked marijuana oil and took prescription pills the night before the deadly crash. He said he was on his way to a methadone clinic when the crash happened.

    Howard, of Dunnellon, told investigators he doesn't remember anything about the crash. He has been charged with eight counts of DUI manslaughter. Troopers said more charges may follow. A judge denied bail for the 41-year-old man in a hearing held March 15.

    The Public Defender's Office is representing Howard, who court records show has numerous traffic infractions that include driving while license is suspended revoked or canceled, leaving the scene of a crash and careless driving. He told troopers in his interview he was behind the wheel of his mother's vehicle that struck a tree three days before the May 14 crash.

    Mike Graves, head of the Public Defender's Office, said they've just begun their investigation. He said they're praying for the families.

    Those who survived the horrific crash where taken to various hospitals for treatments and observations throughout Marion County. As of Friday, officials at HCA Florida Ocala Hospital said there were five patients, four of whom were stable and one critical.

    The eight names

    Yellow crime scene markers on opposite sides of the roadway kept the crowd away from the edge of the road as traffic traveling along the two-lane street drove slowly by.

    Those who spoke during the two-hour vigil preached, sang songs and prayed.

    The memorial ground had mulch, a variety of large paintings, eight crosses draped with Mexican flags, flowers, a blue cloth, and the names and ages of those who died. There were big and small candles, balloons and benches. The names of the eight were: Santiago Benito Jesus, 24; Jose F. Acosta, 27; Isaias M. Pascal, 21; Manuel Perez Rios, 46; Cristian Salazar Villeda, 24; Evarado Ventura Hernandez, 30; Alfredo Tovar Sanchez, 20; and Oscar Temoxtle, 31. Pictures of Temoxtle and Sanchez were on their crosses.

    Among the more than 500 people gathered at the vigil was Miguel Alejandro, his wife and four daughters. Sitting on his horse Sunburst, a 7-year-old gelding, Alejandro said he and his family wanted to show support for the victims.

    "I can't imagine what the families are going through," Alejandro said.

    Reactions from the crowd

    Through translator Bob Miller, a chaplain at Ocala Farm Ministry, Antonio Rivera said Friday was a day to "let people know that life is short." A pastor at Ocala Farm Ministry, Rivera called the crash "bad."

    Melisa Roque said her presence was "to support the community." The deaths also had a closer meaning for her.

    "I have family in Mexico and it makes me sad. They were human beings just going to work," Roque said.

    Officials said the workers had temporary work visas and were hired by a Mexican American businessman.

    Frank and Carmen, husband and wife, and their daughter Jay Knapp, from Four Corners Ministry, said there was nothing that would've stopped them from attending the vigil.

    For wife Carmen, she said they're "ready to help anyway we can." Her husband said "we come together no matter what race, color or creed."

    Driver: NEW: Other driver charged with DUI-manslaughter in crash that killed eight farmworkers

    There was food, drinks, water, chips, cookies and other refreshments. Throughout the service, men, women and children were seen making their way in the crowd handing out water and other items.

    Marquez said he plans to remain in Marion County to finish the memorial. He said he wants to have a place where anyone can come and read individual stories on the eight workers who died.

    Contact Austin L. Miller at or @almillerosb

    This article originally appeared on Ocala Star-Banner: Hundreds turn out Friday at vigil for the 8 farm workers killed Tuesday in Marion County

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