Packing plant helps return crash victims' bodies to Guatemala

Authorities at the scene of the deadly crash last Friday.

An Omaha meat packing company announced Wednesday that it is donating $30,000 to send home the bodies of four Guatemalan men killed last week in a traffic accident while on their way to work.

James Timmerman, a spokesman for Nebraska Beef, said the donation will cover the expenses of returning the men to their home country for burial. The men, who lived in Fremont, were on their way to Nebraska Beef at 5 a.m. when their car went out of control on icy pavement near U.S. Highway 275 and West Maple Road and crashed into a pickup truck.

Sergio Sosa, executive director of the Heartland Workers Center, called the company's donation a “very generous” move that shows it values its workers.

“I am so glad to hear one of the meat packing plants is acknowledging the importance of these workers,” said Sosa, who said his organization seeks to improve the quality of life of immigrant workers. “At least, the families of these men will be able to say good-bye under the traditions of their country.”

Killed were the driver, Pedro Soc Ortiz, 20, and passengers Mario Alvarez Simaj, 29, Manuel Leon Lopez, 35, and Gabriel Ralias Juarez, 19. The pickup's driver was taken to an Omaha hospital in fair condition.

The Douglas County Sheriff's Office said it discovered during its crash investigation that the four men were working in the U.S. under assumed names, and sending money home to support their families.

Timmerman said the men were hired after being scrutinized by the federal government's Employment Verification Program. He said two of the men were hired in November. The other two were hired this month.

Investigators learned the victims' identities from the owner of the car, who belonged to the men's Fremont church.

Marlene de la Rosa, a spokewoman for Ministerio Yo Soy La Puerta, said church members are grateful for the employer's donation. The church was trying to raise money to return the bodies to Guatemala, but didn't know if it would collect enough.

“Thank God,” said de la Rosa. “We were very worried because their families are in Guatemala and we wanted them to see their loved ones for the last time.”

She said the church is very saddened by the loss of four members who worshipped and sang with the church, and she is uplifted by the donation.

World-Herald staff writer Cindy Gonzalez contributed to this report.

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