South Bay, FL Auto Plunges Into Canal, Oct 1991


South Bay (AP) - Seven Guatemalans on the way to a sugar mill panicked and drowned as they tried to claw their way out of a station wagon that flipped into an irrigation canal early Friday, officials said.
The car landed upside-down in eight feet of murky water at about 6:15 a.m., after their unlicensed driver swerved to avoid an oncoming bus, Florida Highway Patrol Lt. Jim Howell said.
"There are claw marks inside the vehicle and on each other," said Howell. "Everything that's up becomes down."
The driver and five others who were killed were employed by Okeelanta Corp. to plant sugar cane. The seventh was only 15 years old, and was not an employee according to company records, Okeelanta said.
"We have no idea why he was in the car," said Okeelanta spokesman Ray Casas.
The only survivor, identified as GASPER MENDOZA, 25, escaped through the broken rear window of the blue 1978 Chevrolet and was found sitting dazed, on the partially submerged wreck, witnesses said.
"They had to go get him because he couldn't swim," company spokesman Otis Wragg said.
Three of the dead men had managed to squeeze partially out of the wagon's broken windows.
Howell said he didn't expect the identities of the dead to be released until today. Officials were going door to door in Indiantown in hopes of contacting relatives.
The victims were resident U.S. aliens from Guatemala, and were among 300 seasonal Okeelanta employees who began planting cane for between $40 and $60 a day about nine days ago.
Ten Mexican migrant farm-workers were killed in similar circumstances in January 1990 when their van ran off a foggy rural road in the same area and sank in a murky canal.

Florida Today Cocoa 1991-10-19