Mike Maloney, London Community News
He has no more tears left to cry – they have been replaced by a void and the pain that comes with memories that will be etched in his mind forever.
“I see this truck coming so rapidly and all of a sudden, I lock eyes with the driver and it’s as if my body escaped me. I hung onto that driver’s eyes and my mind locked for that moment in time.”
Those were the words of Juan Jose Ariza, recounting through an interpreter, the details of the horrific crash on Feb. 6 in Hampstead.
That crash claimed the lives of 10 other migrant workers from Peru and the truck driver, Christopher Fulton of London. It has left the three remaining survivors, Ariza, Javier Aldo Medina and Edgar Sulla-Puma — who still remains in a coma in a Hamilton hospital — changed forever.
“I remember the sound of those brakes and hitting our truck,” said Ariza.
“The next thing I remember is just keeping my eyes open, not being able to move in the van and calling out Javier’s name over and over again,” he said, as he listened to his friend Javier, who kept saying, “They’re coming, they’re coming,” referring to the emergency services personnel who soon arrived on scene.
It was only their third day in Canada and the first on the job for the two who had travelled to the country seeking a better life and to be able to support their families back home in Peru.
“Javier and I were so happy,” explained Ariza.
He said they would laugh at everything that day including the words of a co-worker named Enrique, who jokingly wondered how happy and excited they would be after working all day with 70,000 or so chicks running around the poultry farm they were working at.
It was after 5 p.m. when they got back in the van for the trip home. With most of the other workers quickly falling to sleep after a long day of work, the two newcomers found themselves enthralled as they took in the sights of their new surroundings.
Seated to the left of Ariza in the back of the van, Medina has his own recollections of the crash.
Choked up with emotion, he recalled how they were joking around, then all of a sudden saw the truck coming towards them. He wasn’t sure what the driver of their van was going to do — was he going to cross the street or go back.
“I see this big truck coming towards us and then a lot of smoke in the van,” said Medina through the interpreter.
Tears running down his face, he explained the scene following the collision.
Holding his head between his hands and weeping openly, Medina talks about a co-worker he refers to as Oscar, his face bloodied, laying in front of him on the ground.
“I remember him looking at me, looking like he was saying to me, ‘come and help me.’ I felt so defenseless.”
Not being able to do anything to help his fellow victims has left Medina wracked with guilt, something that he struggles with daily.
“It is something that I try and deal with everyday but I can’t, I just can’t.”
After the collision, a fund was set up by the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Canada called the Migrant Workers Family Support Fund.
Open to not just UFCW and labour movement members, the fund quickly grew with the support of many contributors, which also included companies, community groups and individuals, said UFCW Canada national president Wayne Hanley.
At Thursday’s press conference with Ariza and Medina, Hanley presented a cheque to both in the amount of approximately $15,000 from the in excess of $210,000 raised to date by the fund which is to be divided equally between the survivors and the families of the deceased.
Currently, the pair are still trying to recover from their injuries — physical and mental — at a nursing home in London. They know the battle ahead of them will be one that will be long and painful but both are determined to survive, not just for themselves, but for their families and the memory of their friends that died that day.
Both men are in the process of working with a lawyer to stay in Canada on humanitarian grounds.
With doctors still unable to say when, if ever, either of the two will be able to return to work, their future and that of their families back home in Peru will remain uncertain.