Local News

Wednesday, Jul 21 2010 07:12 PM

Family, friends recall farmworker's kindness, hard work

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    By Felix Adamo/ The Californian

    Family and friends file into Delano Mortuary for the rosary of Rodolfo Ceballos Carrillo, the farm worker who collapsed while at work near Arvin and later died. Jose Acosta, left, said Carrillo was a good worker and took care of himself while at work.

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    By Felix Adamo/ The Californian

    Francisco Morales, a co-worker of farm worker Rodolfo Ceballos Carrillo, said Carrillo was a man who got along with everyone. Carrillo collapsed while at work near Arvin and died.

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    By Felix Adamo/ The Californian

    Carmen Martinez, sister of Rodolfo Ceballos Carrillo's girlfriend, was one of many who went to Delano Mortuary for the visitation and rosary for farmworker Carrillo who collapsed at work near Arvin last week.

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BY JOHN COX, Californian staff writer jcox@bakersfield.com

The farmworker who collapsed last week while working in an Arvin vineyard and later died of possible heat-related illness was remembered by friends and co-workers Wednesday as a good worker and kind man who looked after his health.

Attending an afternoon visitation and rosary service in Delano, people who knew Rodolfo Ceballos Carrillo, 54, spoke with reverence for a man they said got along well with others.

"He was a good worker, a good man," co-worker David Vivas said.

Carrillo was also the kind of diligent worker who knew to take breaks and drink water on hot days, said José Acosta, who described himself as a friend of Carrillo.

"He took care of himself," Acosta said.

State officials are investigating whether Carrillo's death was heat-related. If so, it could be the first heat-related death in the state this year.

Temperatures in Arvin reached 99 degrees on July 14, the day of his death, the National Weather Service reported.

Carrillo's health could figure into the investigation, which is expected to take three months or more. His longtime girlfriend, Rosalva Martinez, confirmed Tuesday that Carrillo was on medication for high cholesterol, high blood pressure and coronary artery disease. But she emphasized that the father of three adult children exercised regularly, avoided drinking and made sure to visit his doctor every three months.

"He was a very strong man," she said, and added: "He had everything under control."

"Of course it was caused by the sun," Martinez said.

Carrillo's sister, Maria Elena Ceballos, said she believed he was in good health. "He wasn't sick," she said Tuesday.

As a "swamper" -- one who loads heavy crates of grapes for hours at a time -- Carrillo was paid according to how much product he was able to move in a day, not how many hours he worked. Farmworker advocates say this system creates a financial incentive for workers to forgo breaks even on days when the sun beats hottest.

Dan Gallegos, the human resources director at Delano-based Sunview Vineyards of California Inc., where Carrillo worked for about 34 years, said last week that the death did not appear to be heat-related.

Sunview screens new workers' health before putting them to work on the grape harvest, Gallegos said Tuesday. He said he did not know whether the company also checks existing workers' health.

A Sunview farmworker died of heat-related illness in 2008, according to Cal-OSHA. In that case, the agency determined that the company had not violated state rules regarding heat-illness prevention.

In recent years Cal-OSHA has cracked down on employers who violate heat-illness protection rules, which include making sure workers have access to shade and water when temperatures reach 85 degrees. The state Legislature is considering tightening such rules by requiring additional measures such as mandatory breaks and provision of enough shade for an entire work crew.

Six California workers died of heat-related illness in 2008, according to Cal-OSHA. It reported only one such death last year.

Carrillo is to buried Thursday at North Kern Cemetery District following a 10 a.m. funeral Mass at St. Jude's Catholic Church in Earlimart.

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