An employee of the largest citrus grower in the country died after a 600-pound blade from a wind machine dislodged and hit him in in Tulare County, CA, officials said.
Richard Escobedo, 53, of Ivanhoe, worked at Wonderful Citrus, a division of The Wonderful Company owned by entrepreneurs Stewart and Lynda Resnick.
The Tulare County Fire Department got the call Jan. 3 at 8:30 a.m. to a citrus orchard at Road 172 and Avenue 376 northeast of Visalia.
Escobedo, who was badly injured but conscious, ended up transported by ambulance to Stone Corral Elementary School, the nearest helicopter landing zone. He was airlifted to Kaweah Delta Medical Center, where he later died.
He died of “multiple blunt force trauma,” the Tulare County Sheriff’s Office said.
Escobedo’s brother, George Escobedo of Visalia, said he was told his brother was in the process of shutting down the wind machine when something went wrong.
“It vibrated real bad; the propeller came off,” he said. “He tried to run” to avoid being hit by the falling blade but it struck him, he added.
“There were no external injuries, all internal,” George Escobedo said.
Escobedo was alone at the time. A fellow employee went looking for him and found him on the ground. Escobedo told him to call 911 and his boss at the company.
The Wonderful Company is investigating what caused the blade to come off the wind machine. Wind machines — large propellers mounted on posts — circulate warmer air into orchards on freezing nights.
“We are deeply saddened to report that last week one of our employees died of injuries sustained following a tragic accident at our Northern Farming Operations in Visalia,” the company said in a statement. “He was immediately rushed to the hospital, but later succumbed to his injuries.
“We are a family owned company and realize words cannot begin to express our sorrow to his family. Our thoughts are with them, and his colleagues.
“Nothing is more important to us than the safety of our employees, and we will use every resource at our disposal to determine what caused this accident and take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that it does not happen again.”
Cal/OSHA, which investigates industrial accidents, said it has “opened an inspection to determine the cause of the incident and correct violations of workplace safety regulations.”
The company was cited in 2016 for two accidents and one complaint, Cal/OSHA said.
Wonderful Citrus, formerly Paramount Citrus, markets the Halos brand of seedless mandarin oranges.
“The Wonderful Company’s diverse holdings make it the world’s largest grower of tree nuts, America’s largest citrus grower, and the world’s largest flower delivery service with the Teleflora network of florists,” according to The Wonderful Company’s website.
The company also owns Fiji bottled water, Pom Wonderful, Wonderful Pistachios, Justin Vineyards and Landmark Vineyards.