BENSON — The migrant workers, most hailing from the same Mexican city, headed out Sunday morning to go to a Smithfield flea market in the blue Econoline van that brought them to the area a few weeks earlier from the Mexican border.
The group never made it to the flea market. The driver ran the vehicle off the road and hit a ditch at 10 a.m. The van rolled over twice on N.C. 96 near Barrett Road in Johnston County's Ingrams Township near Four Oaks, killing one man instantly, Trooper Chris Bell of the state Highway Patrol said.
A second man died from his injuries at Pitt County Memorial Hospital, Bell said. Four others were also sent to the Greenville hospital, and two others were rushed to Raleigh's WakeMed. At least 14 people, and possibly as many as 18, were in the van at the time of the accident, he said.
Bell hasn't been able to determine who was driving at the time and thinks the driver or other occupants could have fled after the wreck. He hasn't had much help from the surviving passengers.
"They won't tell me who was driving," Bell said.
Both of the dead men lived in a white cinderblock building at a small migrant camp on T Bar Road outside Benson. The camp, hidden from the road down a long dirt drive, looks out onto dried corn stalks and an empty field.
On Monday, several other men who were in the accident stood outside the rooms of the dead men, explaining that they knew little about them other than names and their shared hometown of Las Margaritas, Chiapas, in the mountains of southern Mexico.
Bell identified one of the men as Moises Velasco Hernandez, 28. He did not release the name of the other man while authorities tried to confirm his name with relatives in Mexico.
But neighbors said Eliceo Jimenez, 16, was the one who died Monday from injuries he suffered in the wreck.
Jimenez had been in the country for three weeks and had arrived to pick tomatoes and sweet potatoes in his first trip to the United States, said Ciro Jimenez, 26, his cousin and roommate in the cement-floored room they shared with another man.
The cousins walked across a desert in northwestern Mexico and hitched rides east to reach the jobs in Benson, Ciro Jimenez said.
Eliceo Jimenez left behind few belongings in the Benson migrant camp other than a stack of playing cards resting in a glass cup, a red blanket and clothes rolled up to serve as pillows on the metal-framed twin bed and mattress he used.
Two doors down, Velasco's diary was left open on the bed that had been made hours before his death. In late August entries, Velasco wrote about how he missed his wife, Mari, and two children who were still in Chiapas.
None of the other men who traveled from Mexico to Benson with him knew he was married before reading his diary Monday.
The accident remains under investigation.
Staff writer Sarah Ovaska can be reached at 829-4622 or firstname.lastname@example.org.