A migrant worker died on a North Carolina farm on a day when temperatures approached 38 degrees.  The state is now investigating it.

Gonzalo Jimenez

(CNN) — A migrant worker from Mexico died on a North Carolina farm earlier this month on a day when temperatures approached 100 degrees, and his death is now being investigated by the Labor Department. state.

Paramedics responded to Barnes Farming in Spring Hope after receiving a call of a person in cardiac or respiratory arrest, according to a report from Nash County Emergency Services. The farm is about 40 miles east of Raleigh.

José Arturo González Mendoza died on the farm, according to an initial statement from Barnes Farming that CNN obtained from affiliate WRAL.

The EMS report says the worker was affected by excessive heat and describes his condition as “hot.” However, the agency could not confirm with CNN the exact cause of death.

González Mendoza died a few days after starting to work on the farm, according to Barnes Farming’s initial statement.

On September 5, he was harvesting sweet potatoes when he told his field supervisor that he was not feeling well and went to rest on a bus used to transport workers to the farm’s fields, the statement said.

The supervisor, along with a human resources manager, called 911 after checking on González Mendoza, according to the statement.

Extreme heat, a test of survival for workers (many of them Hispanic)

That day, Nash County experienced highs of 90 degrees, according to the National Weather Service. The week was also plagued by highs of between 32 degrees Celsius, and a heat index of 40 degrees Celsius midweek.

Barnes Farming could not identify the cause of death, but said state authorities are conducting an autopsy.

Barnes Farming attorney Marie Scott told CNN in an email that the company was no longer using the initial statement Barnes Farming sent to local media. Instead, she sent another statement without any original information detailing the circumstances of González Mendoza’s death.

In the new statement, the company said it “takes the health and safety of each of its team members very seriously and has prioritized health and safety since the farm began.”

They went on to say, “Every member of the Barnes Farming team is vital to the company, the community and the global food supply and, as a company and family of dedicated team members, we are deeply saddened by the loss of Mr. González Mendoza.”

Barnes Farming was the subject of multiple investigations by the state Department of Labor’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health.

The company was subject to two separate inspections in 2020 and 2019, the first related to hazardous chemicals and the second related to insufficient bathroom and hand-washing facilities, according to the department. In both cases, Barnes Farming paid its penalties in full.

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Wilson’s Casa Azul, a local Latino community nonprofit, hosted a GoFundMe fundraiser that has raised more than $10,700 in donations to provide financial assistance to González Mendoza’s family.

González Mendoza was originally from Guanajuato, Mexico, and leaves behind a wife and two young children, according to the fundraiser.

Flor Herrera-Picasso, executive director of Casa Azul de Wilson, told CNN that when they saw what happened at the farm, the organization wanted to help.

“They should be held accountable for these critical conditions so that this does not happen again,” Herrera-Picasso said.

Herrera-Picasso said Barnes Farming has previously mistreated workers by providing only 20-minute lunch breaks, as well as refusing to give water breaks to those working in the fields.

CNN contacted Barnes Farming for comment but did not receive a response.

Barnes Farming is working with the North Carolina Growers Association to take care of “expenses related to his death and funeral,” they said in their original statement.

The company will also be responsible for returning González Mendoza’s body to Mexico for burial, according to Herrera-Picasso.

The Mexican consulate in Raleigh did not respond to CNN’s requests for comment.

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Peggy McColl

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