Nearly two weeks after poultry plant worker Jesús “Chuy” Salazar died in a work accident, family and friends are mourning the loss of their colleague, father and grandfather.
Salazar, 66, of Sanger City in Fresno County, died the morning of May 7 while working at the Pittman family farm.
That morning, according to a Sanger police report obtained by The Bee, Salazar was assigned to check the pipes around an indoor poultry waste septic tank, a rectangular structure measuring 14 feet wide, 18 feet long and 18 feet high. It was 25 feet deep with a mixture of chicken. feathers, residues, waste and fat and water.
Reportedly, when a co-worker noticed that Salazar was missing, a pitman supervisor called police to report that Salazar had fallen into the pit and died. Police who arrived at the scene said they saw “shoes with the toes pointing up” in the well.
The Fresno County coroner’s office said in an emailed statement to The Bee that Salazar’s cause of death was drowning.
Pitman Farms — the family-owned poultry farm and processor behind “Mary’s Chicken,” a popular line of free-range and organic chickens — is one of Fresno County’s largest employers, according to state employment data. Employees of the Sanger Processing Plant cut, grind, and package chicken and other poultry products.
Pitman Farms did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) is investigating the workplace death. The federal agency says the poultry processing industry poses several “serious health and safety risks” due to the common use of hazardous equipment and chemicals and the risk of chronic injury.
Salazar’s family shared a statement with The Bee, which was written by his son Richard Castillo, daughter-in-law, Lina Castillo, daughter, Clarissa Reyes, and grandchildren Paris, Roman and Landon.
“Losing a loved one is never easy, especially someone as extraordinary as Jesus,” the family said in the statement. “He was not only a great father, but also a great human being.”
‘A lot of people’ wanted him at Pitman Farms
Salazar was originally from the city of Jiquilpan, Michoacán, Mexico and eventually moved to the United States to earn a living.
His children remember him as “a hard worker”.
Before working at Pitman Farms, where his family estimates he worked for about two years, he worked in the hospitality industry, helping with hotel banquets in downtown San Jose.
At Pitman Farms, Salazar, affectionately known as “Don Chuy”, was a co-worker who cared about others.
In the morning, upon entering, Salazar greeted his colleagues with an animated “Good morning! How did we wake up today?” Offered to buy them a sandwich.
He joked with his colleagues and encouraged them during the working day, which according to the workers could last between 10 and 14 hours.
He was a nice and respectful person, Karina Torres, a coworker at Pitman Farms, said in an interview. “Good friends, good people,” he said.
And he loved his family, Torres said. “You were there working with him and he talked to you about his daughters, his sons, his grandchildren,” he said. “And when he talked about them, his pretty little eyes lit up.”
Now, “Don Chuy” is on everyone’s mind at work, Torres said, and as soon as a group of four or five people get together, “we start crying.”
Some of his colleagues, family and friends gathered in Sengar last Saturday for a small tribute on his behalf.
“A lot of people wanted it out there,” said another Pitman farm worker, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retribution.
Salazar’s family will hold a funeral later this month
Salazar’s family remembers him as a man who had an “infectious” love for life and those around him.
One of the ways this passion was expressed was through music and dance. He especially liked mariachi music. Family members say he sang very well “Volver, Volver”, a Mexican ranchera song popularized by Vicente Fernandez.
His daughter-in-law, Lina Castillo, said, “Everyone asked him to sing and he did it very well.”
The Castillo family said they would find comfort in “remembering the sound of his voice when he sang and danced, the warmth of his embrace and the joy he brought to those around him.”
His family will hold private funeral services for Salazar later this month.