11-18-2005, 12:05 PM #1
Worker killed in Indian River County construction accident left child behind
Jose Vega wanted only to be reunited with his little girl in Cuba.
INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — When a construction worker suffocated to death under a pile of dirt Wednesday, his dream of having his daughter in his arms died too.
"What kept him alive was the hope of one day being reunited with his little girl," said his brother, Javier Vega of West Palm Beach. "He loved her."
Worker Jose Vega, 36, escaped Cuba in a boat a year ago, coming to the United States to do what many like him have done: earn money to support relatives back home.
He joined his younger brother in West Palm Beach in making dollars, instead of quarters in Cuba, said the brother, a supervisor with a paving crew.
The new immigrant started out working as a mechanic. A month ago, he switched jobs, becoming a laborer for the Stuart-based Olney Earthworks that installs underground utilities.
Early Wednesday, the victim bent over in a 5-foot-deep hole to install a pressure device on a water line at a large housing project, Millstone Landing, under development along 27th Avenue S.W. south of Vero Beach. A backhoe operator accidentally dumped a load of wet dirt on him, rending him unable to move or breathe, said officials of the Indian River County Sheriff's Office.
Initially, his absence wasn't noticed. Finally about 20 minutes later workers found him buried and motionless, officers said.
On Thursday, the Medical Examiner's Office did an autopsy and concluded the construction worker died accidentally of suffocation. The Sheriff's Office decided not to file charges against the backhoe operator.
"He was killed by someone stupid," said the brother who has gone through safety training while working for East Coast Paving. "No way that should have happened. He was under the dirt for 20 minutes."
The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration is looking into the death.
Wednesday was Javier Vega's 33rd birthday and it was supposed to be a happy time.
Instead, he got a call about noon while at a road paving project at the intersection of Blue Heron Boulevard and Interstate 95 in Palm Beach County. He learned his brother was dead.
That night be called relatives in Cuba who thought it was a birthday call. The daughter and the deceased man's parents, grandparents and wife learned of the death.
On Thursday, Javier Vega got his brother's driver's license renewal in the mail. But he said he hasn't been able to get in contact with his brother's company, which couldn't be reached for comment.
He remembered his brother as a special person.
"Just a few days ago, my brother said he wasn't just a laborer. He has a mind too. We went to school."
Today the victim will be buried at 3 p.m. at the Lake Worth Memorial Garden. His brother, stepsister and some friends will be on hand.
The brother is still trying to decide what to say during the service. What is certain, the brother said, is that Vega's last thoughts were of his daughter. He was separated from his wife.
Jose Vega left behind few possessions, other than "lots and lots of photos" of his daughter, his brother said. "It is sad."