Pitman Farm truck cited in fatal accident

February fatality linked to Western Grain & Milling Inc. trucking company with suspect safety record across several categories

Pitman Farms, a poultry processing plant, is located in Sanger Cold Storage. (Rigo Moran)
Darren Fraser
Published July 10, 2024  • 
11:30 am

FRESNO COUNTY – The truck involved in last February’s fatal accident at Pitman Family Farms in Sanger was part of a Pitman-owned fleet cited for multiple Department of Transportation violations over the past two years, including unsafe driving, HOS compliance, driver fitness and vehicle maintenance.

On Feb. 21, 2024, just after midnight, Pitman Farms employee Jose Abrego, 19, was washing a heavy-duty truck inside the company’s Sanger processing plant. Another employee, 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.

Abrego died after he was pinned beneath the vehicle. His clothes apparently got caught on part of the truck’s fender, pulling him under.

Sanger police body camera footage taken at the scene showed the Department of Transportation (DOT) number of the company printed on the passenger door of the truck. The truck was determined to belong to Western Grain & Milling Inc. (WGM).

According to the California Secretary of State’s website, the agent listed for WGM is Richard J. Pitman, who is also listed as the agent for Pitman Family Farms. The site lists the company’s initial filing date as Dec. 10, 1987.

A search of WGM on the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) website lists it as owning 145 vehicles and employing 145 drivers. According to the FMCSA, WGM has had 270 inspections dating back two years. FMCSA is part of the DOT.

FMCSA uses the Safety Measurement System or SMS to assess and evaluate a company’s safety performance over a two-year period. WGM’s assessment period ended on May 31, 2024. According to the DOT, the company had in excess of 200 violations between June 16, 2022 and May 25, 2024.

The assessment looks at seven categories – unsafe driving, crash indicator, HOS compliance, vehicle maintenance, controlled substances and alcohol, hazardous materials compliance and driver fitness. Crash indicator and hazardous materials compliance are not available to the public.

SMS also weighs the severity of each violation. For example, driving 15 miles above the speed limit or texting while driving rates a 10 – WGM racked up two of each. Prohibited from performing safety sensitive functions due to drugs or alcohol also rates a 10 – WGM incurred one of these.

Most of WGM’s violations were weighted five or less. Infractions included failure to add to trailer or document numbers or other administrative tasks. However, the company was cited 11 times for having brakes out of adjustment. WGM was cited 17 times for tire issues – flat or having an audible air leak. The company also had 11 violations related to brakes being out of service. Under this category, the number of defective brakes is equal to or greater than 20% of the service brakes on the vehicle or combination.

With respect to brakes, WGM had nearly 90 brake-related violations.

ABREGO

According to the police report filed after Abrego’s death, 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.

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

The report cited one employee who 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
Reporter