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OSHA Investigating Death Of Juan Temoxtle, Colorado Dairy Farm Employee Who Drowned In Manure Pit

WELD COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4) - Juan Panzo Temoxtle, 44, died at a Greeley hospital after an industrial accident at a Weld County dairy farm March 30. Temoxtle and another employee were operating a work vehicle that somehow drove forward into one of the several waste lagoons at the Shelton Dairy located about six miles southeast of La Salle, per a spokesman for the Weld County Sheriff's Office.

The cab of the vehicle was submerged with Temoxtle inside.

Other employees removed him from the vehicle and the man was flown to North Colorado Medical Center in Greeley where he passed away.

The spokesman for the sheriff's office, Joseph Moylan, told CBS4 that personnel from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration are looking into the incident.

Monday, Chauntra Rideaux of the U.S. Department of Labor confirmed that OSHA is investigating.

Dairy Worker Drowns (Juan Panzo Temoxtle from GoFundMe)
Juan Panzo Temoxtle (credit: GoFundMe)

Temoxtle had been employed at the dairy farm for six weeks and was being trained to operate the manure vacuum truck by the other employee at the time of the accident, according to a press release from the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition.

CIRC, citing sources close to Temoxtle's family as well as other employees at the farm, stated that the day of the incident was Temoxtle's first experience operating the vehicle.

Temoxtle, CIRC added, was an undocumented immigrant from Mexico. He leaves behind a wife and three children. They were at his side the following morning when he passed away from hypoxic injuries, CIRC stated.

CIRC provided a statement from Temoxtle's wife, Serafina Caliuhua Gonzalez: "Juan came to the United States to have a better future for his kids, but unfortunately God had another plan for him. Juan wanted his kids to have a career and have a better future. He worked so hard for us. We depended on Juan, and now we have no one to depend on, no one to support us."

Front Line Farming, a minority- and women-led food and farmers advocacy group in Denver, started a GoFundMe page to benefit the family.

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"Undocumented workers are especially vulnerable to exploitation and at risk for harms from unjust or unsafe working conditions because their legal status makes their presence and ability to earn a living in the United States very precarious," Nicole Civita, a food, agricultural and labor lawyer and Project Protect Food Systems Workers' Policy Director, stated in CIRC's press release.

SB 21-087, a bill proposing improvements in the protections of agricultural workers and their rights, is currently under consideration at the Colorado state legislature.

CIRC stated in its press release that Temoxtle's coworkers who witnessed the accident "were made to resume work; they were not provided any trauma counseling or other supportive services."

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CBS4 obtained a statement from the dairy farm Saturday:

We cannot adequately express the deep sadness we feel over the accident that involved one of our employees last week. Our sympathy is with their family as we all mourn this loss.

Our team is working with the Weld County Sheriff Office and OSHA in full cooperation with their efforts as the investigation of this truly unfortunate incident continues. We work day-in and day-out alongside our employees and we can share that this has been traumatic for all of us; the whole team feels it.

We are heart-broken for the family and extend our deepest support and care at this time.

Ron Shelton, whose family owns the 2,800-cow dairy operation, is a member of the Dairy Farmers of America Board of Directors.

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The Shelton Dairy in Weld County. (credit: CBS)

A waste lagoon or manure pit acts as a storage area for animal waste which is diverted from the pens and corrals, providing a more healthy and comfortable living environment for the animals.

More recently, those holding ponds have come under scrutiny as potential sources of ground water contamination.

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