Farm Owner Charged with Worker Death

For release on November 8, 2023


Johnene Stebbins
Deputy District Attorney
Environmental Protection and Workplace Safety Unit
(408) 792-2959


Farm Owner Charged with Worker Death

A farm owner has been charged with involuntary manslaughter after his worker was killed servicing an unsafe 16,000-pound spinach harvester.

The Santa Clara County Grand Jury returned an indictment against a Watsonville-based company, Willoughby Farms, and its owner, for causing the death of Carlos Jimenez Cruz. At approximately 4:30 a.m. on October 15, 2020, the 32-year-old victim was strangled to death when the hood on his clothing was caught in a spinning shaft on the machine.

David Willoughby, 50, the president of Willoughby Farms, Inc. was arraigned yesterday on felony charges.  The corporation, along with an affiliated LLC, will be arraigned this afternoon on the felony charges. The allegations include failing to provide adequate training to employees and failing to cover the dangerous parts of the machine, causing the death of Mr. Cruz. The maximum sentence for involuntary manslaughter is four years in prison. Willoughby Farms faces millions of dollars in fines for three related Labor Code violations.

“Employers have a basic responsibility to make sure their workers are safe,” District Attorney Jeff Rosen said. “It is a tragedy and a crime when a person doing their job is injured or killed because an employer fails to pay attention to safety.”

Willoughby Farms has been around for generations growing spinach and other crops.

This is the second time that a Santa Clara County Grand Jury has indicted an employer for a workplace death. In 2015, a jury convicted both the owner and project manager of a construction company of involuntary manslaughter when an unsupported 12-foot trench collapsed and crushed a worker. The defendants were sentenced to two years in prison.




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