Juan Jose Ariza, 35, (left, green shirt) and Javier Alba, 38, survived the crash in Perth County on Feb. 6 that killed 10 of their fellow migrant workers, most of whom were from Peru. They are two of three survivors. The third man remains in a coma. They spoke together to Sun Media for the first time.
Credits: Kate Dubinski/QMI AGENCY
Today, they describe their relationship with one word: brothers.
Javier Alba, 38, and Juan Jose Ariza, 35, are two of three survivors of the devastating February crash northeast of Stratford in Perth County that killed 10 migrant workers and one truck driver.
This weekend, the two men spoke together for the first time to QMI Agency at a Peruvian Independence Day celebration in London, where money was raised for them.
"It's nice to see life around us. Maybe this was God's mission for us -- maybe our reason for being here is to help others," Ariza said.
Alba and Ariza both walk slowly, deliberately, and with canes.
They live in a London nursing home, plagued by physical pain from the crash and emotional scars that are taking a long time to heal.
"I am worried because six months have passed by and I have a lot of aches, pains in my back and legs," Ariza said through an interpreter.
"I have difficulty sleeping because of nightmares because of the accident. I am afraid to fall asleep."
His most recent surgery was last weekend, when he had his to have his gall bladder, damaged in the crash, removed.
He talks daily on Skype to his wife and seven-year-old son.
Ariza hopes to eventually find work in London so he can bring his family here.
"I am hoping that we can gain residency (in Canada) on humanitarian grounds. In Peru we will not be able to get work because of the disabilities."
Alba, too, talks to his wife and two sons, ages one and 15, daily and wants them to move here.
He's worried because he doesn't know what the future holds.
"My main concern is that I don't know how long we can stay in Kensington Village (nursing home), for how long we have WSIB (Workers Safety and Insurance Board) coverage and whether the employer will be able to provide modified duties for us," Alba said.
"My wish is to stay in Canada. I like this country."
Alba and Ariza first met in Peru when they filed their immigration papers, ready to work on a poultry farm catching and vaccinating chickens.
Both had to take physical-stamina tests before being approved to come to Canada for the dirty job that comes with long hours, work they were willing to take to make money for their families.
All but one of the migrant workers killed in the crash were from Peru.
The 13 workers were in a 15-person van going west on Line 47 in Hampstead after a day spent vaccinating chickens.
Their van went through a stop sign, colliding with a truck driven by Chris Fulton, 38, of London, who was killed along with 10 migrant workers.
Edgar Sulla-Puma, 26, is the third survivor of the crash. He remains in hospital.
The support of the community -- hundreds of thousands of dollars were raised for the families of the men killed and the survivors, including more than $1,000 on the weekend for each of the three survivors -- has astounded Ariza and Alba.
"Today there is a feeling of being very happy because we are meeting with other Latin Americans, with Canadian citizens and with Peruvians who are supporting us," Ariza said at the Independence Day celebrations, where food and music filled a community centre gymnasium.
"I am very happy," added Alba. "I am doing well, and I am especially happy today."
- On Feb. 6, 13 migrant workers, most from Peru, had finished a day of chasing and catching chickens to be vaccinated at Hampstead Poultry, northeast of Stratford, Ont., when they set out for home in a van.
- Their van was going west on Line 47 in Hampstead, Ont., when their driver, David Armando Blancas-Hernandez, ran the stop sign, colliding with a truck driven by Chris Fulton of London, Ont., that was going south on Perth Rd. 107.
- The crash killed Fulton, Jose Mercedes Valdiviezo Taboada; Cesar Augusto Sanchez- Palacios; Enrique Arturo Leon; Corsino Jaramillo; Mario Abril; Fernando Correa; Oscar Compomanes- Corzo; Juan Castillo, Elvio Bravo-Suncion and Blancas-Hernandez.
- Only three men survived: Juan Ariza, Abelardo Alba-Medina and Edgar Sulla-Puma, who remains in hospital.