Pitman Farms fatality raises safety concerns

Sanger Police Department report indicates working conditions at Pitman Farms may have contributed to recent employee death

(robypangy / AdobeStock)
(robypangy / AdobeStock)
Darren Fraser
Published April 4, 2024  • 
12:00 pm

SANGER – According to the Sanger Police Department’s report on a recent accident at Pitman Farms, which claimed the life of an employee, poor workplace conditions may have contributed to the incident.

In an April 3 story, the Fresno Bee quoted extensively from the report it obtained through a California Public Records Act request. The Bee also obtained body camera footage from Sanger Police, who arrived on the scene just after midnight on the morning of Feb. 21.

The accident came to be with the victim, Jose Abrego, 19, was washing a heavy-duty truck inside the company’s Sanger processing plant. Another employee, apparently unaware Abrego was at the front of the truck, moved the vehicle forward. 

It is not clear if the other employee was in the truck while Abrego washed it or if he entered it later. Nor is it clear if the vehicle was already running or if the other employee started it. The body camera footage captured activity just after the accident.

“Somehow, some way, he got stuck; I don’t know,” said an officer on the scene. Body camera footage showed the officer speaking to an unnamed male, possibly a Pitman employee. The unnamed male then asked if he could walk around the truck. The footage showed other officers, firefighters and other individuals, possibly employees, in the background.

A small fence was placed in front of Abrego’s body, which was located near the truck gas tank behind the cab. Based on the location of the body, the truck ran over Abrego before it came to a stop.

“We have to get the truck moved,” camera footage caught another voice saying.

According to the police report, noise, lack of lighting and lack of reflective safety gear for employees may have contributed to the accident. The report surmised Abrego’s clothing became hooked on the truck’s broken fender, which prevented him from getting out of the way as the vehicle moved forward. The area where the accident occurred is typically busy, with trucks and trailers being loaded and unloaded.

“Abrego may have had a better chance of survival if the quarter fender tube hanger had been repaired, as it would have prevented Abrego from coming into direct contact with the tire of the truck,” said the report.

Abrego was the second Pitman employee to die on plant premises in less than a year. Last May, Jesus “Chuy” Salazar, 66, died when he fell into a chicken waste pit and drowned.

The Bee published an investigative piece on conditions at the plant two weeks before Abrego died. Current and former employees told the paper they did not receive sufficient training for the heavy machinery and tools used at the plant.

“There did not seem to be much safety precautions put in place or enforced to prevent this type of incident,” said the police report.

Quoting an officer, the report continued, “With the loud noises of the machinery and poorly lit workspace, it made sense to me as to why (the employee driving the truck) did not see or hear Abrego.”

According to the report, police interviewed employees who wished to remain anonymous because they are undocumented. One employee told police the company routinely cuts corners to earn more profit.

The report cited one employee who also said she believed Abrego might still be alive had the company maintained safer work conditions.

Following Abrego’s death, company owner David Pitman issued the following statement:

“We are devastated by this tragic accident and remain dedicated to supporting Jose Abrego’s family and his coworkers through this difficult time,” said Pitman. “I am committed to the health and wellbeing of his family, our work team, and the families we serve.”

Darren Fraser