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What to know about a bus crash that killed 8 Mexican farmworkers in Florida

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — A bus carrying farmworkers to a watermelon field in central Florida was sideswiped by a drunk driver and overturned in a field, killing eight people and injuring dozens of others, authorities said.

The man accused of causing Tuesday’s crash has a lengthy driving record and is being held in jail without bond.

The farmworkers were from Mexico, working on seasonal or temporary visas. Authorities have not yet released their names.

Here’s what to know about the crash.

Around 6:40 a.m. on Tuesday, a 2001 Ford Ranger driven by Bryan Howard, 41, crossed the center line of State Road 40 and sideswiped a bus carrying 53 farmworkers to a watermelon patch at Cannon Farms in Dunnellon. The bus veered off the two-lane road that passes through horse farms, hit a tree and rolled over.

The crash happened about 80 miles (130 kilometers) north of Orlando.

All eight people killed were in the U.S. from Mexico on H-2A farmworker visas, officials said.

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said Wednesday morning that 44 Mexican citizens were on the bus, hired by a Mexican-American farmer to work on the watermelon farm under temporary or seasonal visas. Mexico’s government later said six of the injured were in serious condition and three more were in critical condition.

Lucas Benitez, the co-founder of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, said Wednesday that it learned from the Mexican consulate that the farmworkers who were killed were from at least five different states in Mexico.

Authorities had not yet released their names as of Wednesday afternoon, pending notification of their relatives. Meanwhile, the Mexican consulate in Orlando was working to provide support at the AdventHealth Ocala hospital, where many of the injured were taken.

Andres Sequera, a director of mission and ministry for AdventHealth hospitals, said chaplains were visiting the injured workers, and that they “were in good spirits for what they have been through.”

Farms across Florida use about 50,000 H-2A workers each year, more than any other state, according to the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association.

The workers travel to Florida on seasonal or temporary visas to harvest farm fruits and vegetables.

These workers were in Marion County, which is in the north-central part of Florida. The county is best known for its rolling countryside, which stands out from much of the state’s typical flat geography. Thoroughbred horse farms are common in the hills outside of Ocala, which is the largest city in the region. Interstate 75 also cuts through Marion County.

Bryan Maclean Howard, 41, was arrested hours after Tuesday’s crash and remained jailed without bond on Wednesday in Ocala.

At a brief court appearance on Wednesday morning, Howard pleaded not guilty to driving under the influence-manslaughter charges in the deaths of eight farmworkers.

Court documents giving details of what substance Howard allegedly took remained sealed Wednesday afternoon.

But he told a judge by teleconference from jail on Wednesday that he’s a self-employed painter and drywall installer with $700 in the bank, no other assets and no dependents.

Howard’s head was bandaged and he wore a protective gown typically given to inmates on suicide watch. The judge denied bond, appointed a public defender and set his next court appearance for next month. The public defender’s office declined to comment about the case.

Marion County court records show Howard has had at least three crashes and numerous traffic tickets dating back to 2006. He was cited previously for crossing the center line, and his driver’s license has been suspended at least three times, the latest in 2021 for getting too many citations within a year.

In 2013, he was convicted of grand theft. A year later, his probation was revoked after he tested positive for cocaine.

Howard’s next court appearance is scheduled for June.

A memorial service for the victims is planned for 6 p.m. EDT in Apopka, Florida, which is north of Orlando.

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