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Latino families mourn after Charlotte construction site deaths

Two Latino men
GoFundMe, Submitted
Family Photos
José Canaca Bonilla, left, Gilberto Mónico Fernández and Jesus "Chuy" Olivares died Monday in a construction accident in Dilworth.

Charlotte police confirmed on Tuesday that three Latino men, ages 26, 43 and 54, were killed Monday in a construction accident at an apartment tower on East Morehead Street.

The workers fell 70 feet to their deaths at the 16-story Hanover East Morehead apartments site in Dilworth when scaffolding collapsed, authorities said.

Fundraising campaigns sought to cover funeral and other expenses for the men, who were identified by relatives as Gilberto Mónico Fernández, 54, from Veracruz, Mexico; Jesus "Chuy" Olivares, 43; and José Canaca Bonilla, 26, from Honduras. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which is investigating the collapse, has not responded to requests for more information or provided further details.

Mónico Fernández was a dedicated father who worked for more than two decades in the construction industry, according to his sister-in-law Maria Alcantara. She said he had hoped to leave construction in the next few weeks and begin selling food. Alcantara is now raising money on GoFundMe to pay for her brother-in-law’s funeral.

Rescue workers outside an apartment building
David Boraks
Rescue workers at the scene of a deadly scaffolding collapse in Dilworth.

A GoFundMe has also been launched for Bonilla by his mother, who said her late son was hard-working and a believer in God.

In a GoFundMe for Olivares, relatives said he was married Marisol Olivares, with four children.

"He was a hard worker, happy and always enjoyed life to the fullest. Loved by everyone," wrote Amy Castro.

In a social media video, published by a worker after the accident, a man can be heard crying at the scene. Another comments in Spanish that workers never know if they’ll make it back home after their shifts, and he questions the safety of the site’s scaffolding.

Two other Latino men, ages 36 and 49, suffered minor injuries, according to police, and were treated by Atrium Health. Authorities have not yet released the names of those victims.

Falls are a leading cause of workplace deaths in the construction sector, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. They accounted for nearly one-third of North Carolina’s 41 construction worker deaths in 2021.

Latinos also make up a disproportionate number of the state’s overall workplace fatalities. As of 2020, Latinos accounted for just over 11% of North Carolina’s labor force but 16% of workplace deaths. In 2021, they represented 18% of fatalities.

The Charlotte-Metrolina Labor Council said in a press release that the accident was a reminder of how dangerous construction work can be and called for the highest level of safety standards in workplaces.

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Kayla Young is a Report for America corps member covering issues involving race, equity, and immigration for WFAE and La Noticia, an independent Spanish-language news organization based in Charlotte. Major support for WFAE's Race & Equity Team comes from Novant Health and Wells Fargo.