Tragedy on a Dairy Farm Is Window Into Bigger Issue

Young boy, son of immigrant worker, was killed in equipment accident in Wisconsin
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 26, 2023 4:10 PM CST
Boy Was Killed by Farm Machine. But Who Was Driving?
Stock image   (Gety / bizoo_n)

On a summer night in 2019, 8-year-old Jefferson Rodriguez was killed on a dairy farm in Wisconsin when he was struck by a tractor-like machine used to clean up manure. That much is not in dispute. But as ProPublica reports, some of the other pertinent details are. The police report states that Jefferson's father, Jose, an immigrant worker from Nicaragua, was driving the "skid steer" at the time. But it was actually another immigrant worker behind the wheel, according to the story. Dane County deputies on the scene got it wrong because of the language barrier, says the story, and the official record remains uncorrected. ProPublica tracked down the other worker, identified only as Blandon and now working in another state, and he acknowledges being the driver—and also being a little confused about why authorities didn't interview him that night.

The story by Melissa Sanchez and Maryam Jameel uses the tragedy to explore larger issues: "What happened to Jefferson and his father is a story of an accumulation of failures: a broken immigration system that makes it difficult for people to come here even as entire industries depend on their labor, small farms that largely go unexamined by safety inspectors, and a law enforcement system that’s ill equipped to serve people who don’t speak English." But in this case, the particulars matter. Jose and his wife have filed a wrongful death suit against the farm's owners, and the June trial may hinge on who was driving the machine. Attorneys for the farm have cited the police report as proof Jose was driving and say he has a financial incentive (damages from the lawsuit) to claim someone else was behind the wheel. Read the full story. (Or check out other longform stories.)

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