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Ontario crash survivor had just ended his first shift

Ontario Provincial Police and emergency crews investigate a multiple fatal motor vehicle accident near Hampstead, Ont., Feb. 6, 2012. Police say 11 people died in the crash.

Dave Chidley/The Canadian Press/Dave Chidley/The Canadian Press

The last thing Juan Ariza remembers was shielding himself with his hands and screaming, "Stop! Stop!"

Moments earlier, the Peruvian had finished his first shift at his new job at a chicken farm in Canada, climbing into a passenger van with 12 of his new-found friends. The migrant workers had discussed marking the moment by heading out for a celebration.

They had barely made it past the stop sign at the first intersection when Mr. Ariza looked out the window. He recalls seeing a large truck bearing down on the side of the van, according to friends who have spoken with him.

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Less than 48 hours later, Mr. Ariza was lying in a hospital bed Wednesday, marking his 36th birthday after surviving one of the worst car crashes in Ontario's history. Well-wishers from the local Latino community, many of whom he had never met before, told him that 10 of his co-workers did not survive the crash. Nor did the truck driver who collided with them.

Mr. Ariza, according to multiple sources who have visited him in hospital, is on painkillers to deal with the fractures to his bones, and lacerations to his spleen and liver. People who have talked to him say he wonders when he will next see his wife and six-year-old child, to whom he had said goodbye in Peru shortly before arriving in Canada for the first time last week.

One small consolation for Mr. Ariza is that he has many supporters in Canada, many of whom he has never met. Just 48 hours after the accident, a stream of Peruvian diplomats, Canadian lawyers and fellow "Peruano" well-wishers have flocked to the Victoria Hospital at the London Health Sciences Centre to offer him, and a fellow survivor, Javier Aldo Medina, help and condolences. (A third survivor, Edgar Sulla Palma, 26, is hospitalized in Hamilton.)

Ten migrant co-workers from the Kitchener chicken farm also came to the hospital in London Wednesday, arriving in a white 15-seat GMC Savana van very much like the one that was T-boned in Monday's accident. In hoodies and windbreakers, they huddled in the waiting room, refusing to speak to a reporter as they waited to talk to the survivors.

Other also came by. Juan Carranza, a lawyer from Toronto, drove two hours up Highway 401 to see if he could do anything to help. He said that there is not enough attention paid to migrant workers in Canada, and worries that Mr. Ariza could face a similar plight to many migrants who have workplace accidents – eventually forced to leave Canada.

That's unlikely to happen in the case at hand. From Peru to Canada, people are mobilizing to help the survivors. Basic health-care costs will be covered by the government. And the Latino community in Ontario is already planning fundraisers to assist the three survivors' recuperation, as well as trying to figure out how to get visas to bring relatives from Peru to Canada.

Judith Ormeno Blancas, a Peruvian living in Toronto, has travelled to London this week to comfort Mr. Ariza.

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She said she had lost four cousins in the car crash, and wanted to do what she could to console the survivors. Several visitors – mostly strangers – broke the news to Mr. Ariza that most of his fellow passengers had died in the crash he had survived. They brought him a small icon of the Virgin Mary, suggesting somebody had watched over him.

"He remembers a red truck ... He was sitting and shouting 'Stop! Stop!' and then – boom! – that's all he remembers," said Ms. Blancas, who is related to the van's deceased driver.

"I wished him a happy birthday," she said. "He said, 'I'm so tired, Judy.' He doesn't know what's going to happen after tomorrow."

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About the Author
National security reporter

Focusing on Canadian matters during the past decade, Colin Freeze has reported extensively on the interplay between government, police, spy services, and the judiciary. Colin has twice been to Afghanistan to be embedded with the Canadian military. More

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