VALRICO, Fla. (CN) – The 2-year-old son of migrant farmworkers fell into an uncapped septic tank and drowned in sewage, the parents say in a wrongful death suit against their employer. The parents claim the tank in which their child drowned was in the common area of a mobile home park where Sam Williamson Farms housed its workers.
The toddler’s parents, Juan Martinez Ventura and Rosalina Ramirez, say the Silver Land Mobile Home Park’s staff knew the septic tank was uncapped for weeks before the tragedy but did nothing to seal it. The couple had moved to the park with their son last winter to pick strawberries.
According to the parents’ wrongful death complaint in Hillsborough County Court, their toddler, Luis Martinez, fell into the septic tank when he wandered off on Nov. 27.
Hundreds of volunteers tried to locate the child, and after hours of fruitless searching, Ventura and Ramirez began to wonder if their boy had been abducted, the couple’s attorney, Brent Probinsky, said.
But the next day, sheriff’s deputies began to suspect that Luis may have fallen into an 11-inch wide, exposed port that led to an underground septic tank near Ventura’s mobile home. The tank was drained, the sheriff’s office said, and several years’ worth of sludge was pumped out.
That afternoon, sheriff’s deputies pulled Luis’ tiny corpse and a toy car from the tank.
Probinsky said that his firm has determined that the mobile home park’s staff members were informed nearly a month before the incident that the tank was not capped.
He added that investigators later found that on the opposite side of the mobile home park another septic tank port lay exposed, sloppily covered by a piece of scrap metal.
In-ground ports, which are designed to provide line access to septic systems for easy maintenance, are typically sealed with tight-fitting, heavy lids.
Ventura and Ramirez’ wrongful death suit names both Williamson Farms and Standard Property, the mobile home park manager, as defendants.
According to the complaint, Williamson Farms routinely used Standard Property to set up housing for migrant workers such as Ventura and Ramirez.
Standard Property’s staff could not be reached for comment.