Laura Kane, Toronto Star
They were so happy, they couldn’t sleep.
While the other migrant workers dozed in the van, Juan Jose Ariza Mejia 35, and Abelardo Javier Alba Medina, 38, could only stare out at peaceful farmland and be grateful for where they were.
They had just finished their first day’s work vaccinating chickens at a poultry farm in rural Ontario. The job paid $10.25 an hour, up from the $2 wage they made in Peru.
Both men were daydreaming about how the money would help feed their families, maybe even send their kids to university.
In an instant, that dream vanished.
Through the passenger window, the men saw a transport truck barrelling toward them.
“I closed my eyes, and when I opened them, all I saw was carnage,” said Medina, speaking through a translator.
“My coworker was dying in front of me. He couldn’t speak, but he was speaking to me with his eyes, saying he needed help.
“I couldn’t help. That is what I struggle with every day.”
Mejia and Medina are two of three surviving migrants from the horrific crash near Hampstead, Ont. on Feb. 6. They were to have shared their experiences Tuesday at a Ryerson University panel on migrant workers.
Police have said the driver of the migrants’ van, who did not have the correct licence to operate the 15-seat vehicle, ran a stop sign and smashed into the truck.
Both drivers and nine of the van’s passengers were killed. The remaining survivor, Edgar Sulla Puma, 26, has severe brain damage.
Mejia and Medina believe they survived because they were awake and able to brace for the crash. But that terrible night is etched into their memories.
“When I was coming to, I could hear (Medina) calling my name, saying, ‘Stay calm, stay calm, they are coming for us,’” said Mejia.
“All I could think was that I wanted to live. I wanted to live for my family and the hope that I would come back for them someday.”
All 13 of the migrants were from the same desperately poor Lima neighbourhood of Comas, Peru. Five had arrived in Canada on Feb. 3, and had grown close during the months before their trip.
Mejia and Medina were among that five, and they clung to each other in the back of the van as they waited for help.
Mejia broke four ribs and his pelvis and suffered severe head and leg wounds. Medina fractured his hip, pelvis and nine ribs.
They were treated at Victoria Hospital before being discharged to Kensington Village, a London nursing home where they are still living.
Both men still suffer intense pain from their injuries and do not know when, if ever, they will be able to work again.
Medina said he is taking anti-depressants and sleeping pills to cope with the trauma. Every time he closes his eyes, he sees images of the crash.
“Without (the pills) I feel like my heart is going to pop out of my body, and I will explode,” he said.
The Workplace Safety Insurance Board has covered the cost of their treatment and paid 85 per cent of their wages as they recover.
“My son calls me ‘Iron Man’ for having lived through such a horrific, torturous accident,” said Medina, whose son is 15. He also has a 1-year-old child.
“I talk to them every day and my wife says, ‘We really want to see you, we want you to come home.’ But they understand the reasons why.”
Mejia decided not to allow his 7-year-old son to visit, as he thought it would be too traumatic for the boy.
They had long dreamed of bringing their families to Canada, but that dream is now in jeopardy.
Mejia’s visa expires in February 2013 and Medina’s visa expires one year later.
They hope some lessons can be learned from the tragedy, especially that foreign temporary workers need more health and safety training.
They planned to share this message at Ryerson Tuesday.
“We are fighters,” said Medina. “We continue to fight, to get better, to bring our families here, but we need to have the community’s support to realize that dream.”