‘Please don’t go’: Loved ones mourn the death of Allan Bros. worker hospitalized with COVID-19

YAKIMA, Wash. — In early May, a 60-year-old worker at a Naches fruit packing warehouse joined in a strike that would end in an agreement with the company to increase worker protections from COVID-19 and keep wage negotiations open.

Within days after the protest began, that same worker began to feel sick and later tested positive for COVID-19. He was hospitalized, put on a ventilator and on Sunday, loved ones said he died from virus-related complications.

David Cruz worked at Allan Bros. for 12 years, developing bonds with his fellow workers that made them more like family, a family who took to the streets Wednesday to hold a caravan in his honor.

“It is painful to lose the life of a member of our worker family and we will continue to work to protect everyone else while this disease continues,” said Agustin Lopez, a friend of David’s and an elected member of the negotiation team of the Allan Bros. strike.

David’s wife, Reyna Cruz, spoke to KAPP-KVEW about David’s life, love and the difficult weeks leading up to his death.

“My husband, he was a great person,” Reyna said. “I’ll never find another guy in the world like him.”

In words and in memories, Reyna described David as a great husband, a wonderful father and a hard worker: someone who never said a bad word and treated everyone with respect.

“He always liked to work harder and harder,” Reyna said.

Reyna said he was kind-hearted and when the pair would disagree — like any couple who’s been married for 21 years — he was never mean and always expressed his love for his family, in words and in actions.

In the early days of the pandemic, Reyna said they were both afraid to go to work, but the reality of their financial situation took precedent over those concerns.

“I told him, ‘Don’t go. Don’t go to work,'” Reyna said. “But he said, ‘How are we gonna pay the bills?'”

It wasn’t until several days after the strike began that David started showing symptoms; Reyna tried everything they had at home to help get his fever down and make him feel better.

“We tried to buy medicine,” Reyna said. “We tried to buy so many things for him, but nothing worked.”

The symptoms became so prevalent that David needed to go to the hospital. Rather than wake Reyna up to tell her, knowing she had to be up at 4 a.m. to go to work, he tried to let her sleep as an act of kindness.

“He called me at 5 o’clock in the morning and said, ‘I’m in the hospital,'” Reyna said. “I said, “Oh, God, why are you going to the hospital? I need to know what’s going on.'”

Reyna said David soon tested positive for COVID-19 and his symptoms continued to worsen. One day, the doctor called and told Reyna her husband needed to be put on a ventilator to help him breathe.

“When I heard this, I said … I don’t think David’s coming back,” Reyna said. “We prayed and prayed and prayed.”

One of the saddest days for Reyna happened when she visited David in the hospital, wearing a host of personal protective equipment.

“I grabbed his hand and said, ‘Please don’t go. Don’t go,'” Reyna said. “‘I love you so much, David. You need to come back home. We need you.'”

After 22 days in the hospital, David passed away Sunday night. He left behind family and close friends, both grieving his death and searching for a way for their loved one to be remembered for who he was in life.

While it’s unknown how David came across the virus, workers and family said they believe that had protections been in place sooner at the warehouse, his death might have been prevented.

“Whether he contracted the virus at work or elsewhere, his close proximity to coworkers prior to the strike increased the risk of transmission to and from him,” union representatives said.

Reyna said while she and her daughter both contracted the virus and were able to recover, she is afraid of getting it again, either through work or another place outside her home.

“The warehouse where he worked, they did not protect the people,” Reyna said.

David is one of at least 14 workers at Allan Bros. to have tested positive for the virus, with several hundred cases reported in agricultural businesses throughout Yakima County.

Representatives of farm workers’ union Familias Unidas por la Justicia said while agreements have been reached at two fruit packing warehouses in the Yakima Valley, workers at Columbia Reach and Matson Fruit remain on strike after three weeks of asking for employers to increase workplace protections from the virus.

“Many see the victories at Allan Bros. and Monson Fruit as hopeful and are even more determined after the tragic death of their community member,” union representatives said.

On Wednesday morning, more than 50 cars lined up in the parking lot of Sarg Hubbard Park, with black ribbons or photographs of David taped to the hoods, many with painted messages on their windows or signs reading, “Rest in power, David” or “Your death hurt us.”

Workers traveled first to the Yakima office of the Department of Labor & Industries, where they set up a memorial for David with lit candles placed in front of a picture of him: then, they prayed.

Taking the memorial with them, the caravan traveled to the Yakima Health District,  where organizers were approached by an employee asking why they were there.

Upon learning the workers were there in memory of their lost friend, the health district’s chief operating officer, Ryan Ibach, asked how he could help; he ended up speaking to the large crowd gathered in front of the building.

“First of all, I want to offer my condolences to the family, friends and coworkers of Mr. Cruz,” Ibach said. “No deaths are acceptable and we are here to make sure that we don’t have any other deaths, minimize the spread of the disease, cut down the hospitalizations and the number of cases. ”

Ibach said that agriculture businesses have always been and will continue to be vital to the Yakima community.

“I assure you that we will continue to work with employee representatives, employers and other agencies to make sure that agriculture workers have a safe, healthy environment to work in,” Ibach said.

That’s what David’s family and friends said they’re hoping for: that officials will come together and improve conditions for those working in agriculture, to prevent others from losing a loved one like David.

Reyna said she’s grateful for the 21 years spent married to and sharing a life with David, but that she wishes they had more time.

Over and over again, throughout their marriage, Reyna said she would tell her husband that if she had to do her life all over again, she would always choose him.

“That’s a good husband, that’s what I told him … I told him so many times,” Reyna said. “He said, ‘Oh, Reyna, thank you. I love you.”

The family of David Cruz is accepting donations for funeral expenses via this GoFundMe campaign.