Feds to in­ves­ti­gate fa­tal light­ning strike

Fed­eral agency to in­ves­ti­gate

Sun Sentinel Palm Beach Edition - - FRONT PAGE - By Marci Shatz­man and Juan Ortega Staff writ­ers

As fam­ily and friends mourned Maria Francisco Pas­cual, the fed­eral Oc­cu­pa­tional Safety and Health Ad­min­is­tra­tion said it is in­ves­ti­gat­ing the death of Pas­cual and in­juries of two other farm work­ers.

A fed­eral agency will in­ves­ti­gate the death of a Lake Worth woman who of­fi­cials say was killed by light­ning while work­ing in a Park­land farm field.

Maria Francisco Pas­cual and two other peo­ple were in the field Wed­nes­day when the bolt of light­ning came, killing her. The two other peo­ple were in­jured; they were iden­ti­fied late Thurs­day as Blanca Al­varenga, who is in her 40s, and Al­fonzo Or­donez, who is in his 20s.

Be­cause the case in­volves a work-re­lated death, the U.S. Depart­ment of La­bor’s Oc­cu­pa­tional Safety and Health Ad­min­is­tra­tion will in­ves­ti­gate, spokesman Michael D’Aquino said Thurs­day.

Pas­cual’s cousin saw her be­ing hit by light­ning, ac­cord­ing to Pas­cual’s sis­ter, Ali­cia Pas­cual, 35, of Lake Worth. It hap­pened at 2:10 p.m. at C. W. Hen­drix Farms at 12210 Lox­a­hatchee Road, au­thor­i­ties said.

She worked her way up in the work­place, first start­ing pick­ing pep­pers, then keep­ing tabs on how many veg­eta­bles work­ers picked. On Wed­nes­day, she was hold­ing her cell­phone in one hand, and in the other hand, a de­vice that helped track ev­ery­one’s pick­ings, Ali­cia Pas­cual said.

“She was pas­sion­ate about her job and what she does,” she said.

Francisco Pas­cual, 66, a rel­a­tive from Fort My­ers, added, “She was a lov­able, hon­or­able woman.”

Maria Pas­cual’s brother also worked with her at Hen­drix Farms, Ali­cia Pas­cual said. He is a crew leader, who takes work­ers on bus from Palm Beach County to Park­land, she said.

Maria Pas­cual’s cousin was dis­traught over see­ing the light­ning strike, she said. “He’s in a state in shock,” she said.

It was un­clear whether the elec­tronic de­vices Maria Pas­cual was hold­ing con­trib­uted in any way, she said. “We don’t know that right now,” she said. “They’re go­ing to do an au­topsy and ex­am­ine her.”

The other two light­ningstrike vic­tims, Al­varenga and Or­donez, re­port­edly were work­ing nearby. “The light­ning hit an­other worker who was on a truck,” Ali­cia Pas­cual said, cit­ing the cousin’s ac­count. “He fell from the truck onto the ground.”

A rep­re­sen­ta­tive for C. W. Hen­drix Farms couldn’t be reached for com­ment Thurs­day de­spite a voice mes­sage left at a listed num­ber.

Maria Pas­cual moved from Gu­atemala to the U.S. nearly three decades ago, her fam­ily said. She and her fam­ily first lived in Ari­zona be­fore re­lo­cat­ing to Palm Beach County about 20 years ago, Francisco Pas­cual said.

Maria Francisco Pas­cual will be taken to Gu­atemala for her burial af­ter a fu­neral ser­vice is held in Palm Beach County, her fam­ily said. She and her hus­band had three girls and two boys, in ad­di­tion to 12 grand­chil­dren, rel­a­tives said.

When Francisco Pas­cual heard of the tragedy, he drove from Fort My­ers to be with the rest of the fam­ily Wed­nes­day night. They were griev­ing in the fam­ily’s cozy home, where two framed land­scape pictures of Gu­atemala hung on the walls. Chil­dren’s toys were in nooks and shelves were filled with pho­tos of chil­dren. Her 3-year-old grand­niece played with a stroller while a car­toon played on TV.

Flow­ers still sat on the kitchen ta­ble with a happy birth­day sign hang­ing above. Maria Pas­cual’s birth­day was May 1.

Or­donez was taken in crit­i­cal con­di­tion to Broward Health North in Deer­field Beach; his con­di­tion was not re­leased Thurs­day. Al­varenga showed up at JFK Med­i­cal Cen­ter with in­juries that were not lifethreat­en­ing.

The light­ning-strike death was the sec­ond in Florida this year, and it hap­pened just days af­ter the of­fi­cial start of the rainy sea­son.


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