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In far-off Lima, families mourn Ontario crash victims

Julia Hernandez and David Blancas, mother and son of victim David Blancas at Julia's home in Comas, Lima, Peru.

PILAR OLIVARES/pilar olivares The Globe and Mail

Four years ago, David Blancas Hernandez left Lima to catch chickens in Southwestern Ontario. He worked hard to support his wife and two sons. He served as driver, shuttling crews in vans. He called home every day. He only visited home, in the Comas neighbourhood of Lima, twice – but he meant to make up for it by moving back to Peru on April 20, in time for his 25th wedding anniversary.

He was killed Monday when he ran a stop sign on a rural road, into the path of a flatbed truck. Ten of the 13 men in his van died, as did the truck driver, a turn of events his family back home could scarcely believe.

"He always told me, 'Don't worry, I drive carefully. I drive carefully because I know that I have to return to you,' " his wife, Enith Mendez, said from her mother-in-law's home in Comas, where Mr. Blancas was born.

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It was in Comas, through a tangle of family connections and friendships, that many of the Peruvians involved in the crash found a passage to Canada.

Mr. Blancas lived a few blocks from Jose Mercedes Valdiviezo Taboada – who was married to a cousin of Mr. Blancas's wife. Mr. Valdiviezo had been working in Ontario for four years before his 22-year-old son, Fernando, joined him on Friday.

They were both killed in the crash; it was Fernando's first day on the job.

"We are working on the papers so they can send the bodies as soon as possible," said Mr. Valdiviezo's other son, 18-year-old Cristopher, from Comas. "The only thing that I want is that the embassy supports us."

All of the men in the crash worked for the same company, M.A.R.C. Poultry, a chicken-vaccination operation run by a Peruvian national named Alejandro Carrion. It was Mr. Carrion who arranged for them to come to Ontario for work, and many of them were related to him. He is Mr. Blancas's cousin and is now offering to help pay to have the body sent back to Lima for burial.

On Wednesday, Mr. Blancas's 19-year-old son Michael, who is studying English, said he would have to look for work to support the family.

Mr. Blancas's elder son, David, said the family never had a chance to visit him in Canada.

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"We never had the pleasure," the 24-year-old said, "but he always talked about us being together again."

"If my dad was here again, I would ask him not to leave us again because we miss him a lot. I'm going to do everything possible to make him happy."

Thousands of kilometres north, meanwhile, another community was also in mourning Wednesday. The close-knit group of workers called Kitchener home, spending their down time playing soccer and going dancing at a bar in the city's working-class east end. Some of the unattached men dated Canadian women, whom they tried to teach to salsa.

Several of them even lived together in the same nearby walkup, in apartments provided by M.A.R.C. On Wednesday, co-workers congregated in a top-floor apartment to talk through the trauma of the past two days, in sight of a van that still sat where Mr. Blancas had parked it.

Family and neighbours remembered them as friendly, happy men who pulled long hours, often working overnight. They would congregate on the sidewalk outside the building where, twice a day, the white vans would arrive to pick them up or drop them off.

Melissa West-Balceda, whose husband worked with them, recalled how they often talked about the people back home they were supporting.

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"They were kind, generous, very family oriented," she said. "They would sit there and talk about their kids."

A girlfriend of one of the men took issue with the label "migrant workers," saying it dehumanized them.

"They have names, they have faces, they are people like anyone else," she said. "They're not migrant workers. They are great men."

Early in the afternoon, Max Rodriguez pulled up in another van to take them to visit one of the crash survivors, Javier Aldo Medina, in a London hospital. He was at a loss to imagine how his colleagues' dreams of a better life had so quickly changed into a nightmare.

"The driver, he was very careful. I don't know what happened," said Mr. Rodriguez, who said he worked in Mr. Carrion's New Hamburg shop. "Nobody is perfect in this world."

With reports from Kim Mackrael and Tu Thanh Ha

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About the Author
Washington correspondent

Adrian Morrow covers U.S. politics from Washington, D.C. Previously he was The Globe's Ontario politics reporter. He's covered news, crime and sports for The Globe since 2010. He won the National Newspaper Award for politics reporting in 2016. More

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