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Lawn mower driver killed in collision with semitrailer truck

RIVERVIEW — A mother of six died Monday after a semitrailer truck slammed into the rear of the lawn mower she was riding.

Isabel Ojeda Ramos, 36, was blowing the grass cuttings out of the curbs surrounding the Summerfield subdivision when a westbound Pepin Distributing truck carrying beer collided with her shortly after 11 a.m., according to family members and a Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman.

The accident happened on Big Bend Road near Summerfield Boulevard, a path that family members said Ramos took regularly in her job with Sunrise Land Care, the Tampa landscaping company where she worked for more than two years.

Flames engulfed the mower and the semi, leaving Ramos dead at the scene, deputies said.

Stocky, strong and from a large family of migrant workers, Ramos bore six children in her short life, and always chose jobs that kept her outside in Florida's heat, as a caretaker for suburban greenery.

"She worked hard," said Alfredo Castillo, 39, Ramos' brother-in-law, who was working for Sunrise Land Care at another site when he was alerted something had gone wrong.

By the time Castillo reached home, rumors were strong — and though relatives had not formally heard from the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office themselves, they said they knew.

"We knew it was her," sister Julia Ramos, 38, said Monday between tears. "It's her lawn mower. It's her job site."

Isabel Ramos was one of nine children born in Texas to migrant worker parents. Her family moved to the Wimauma area when she was young, and their large extended family remains firmly rooted in Hills­borough County, Ramos and Castillo said.

Julia Ramos said that despite their family's size, they've never been hit with a loss as hefty as this. The family is sorting out arrangements for Ramos' children, ages 5 to 17.

"We're a big family and we've always been together," Julia Ramos said. "When you work as a migrant, you work as a family."

Sheriff's spokeswoman Debbie Carter said the accident is still under investigation and no charges had been filed.

It was not yet clear, she said, whether the lawn mower pulled in front of the semi, or Ramos was already riding in the roadway when the accident happened.

But Carter said it did appear Ramos had been using an attachment on the mower that helps blow the road clear of grass cuttings.

Castillo said Ramos' mower was equipped with flashing safety lights that she would employ any time her work required her to get close to traffic. She was a crew leader for Sunrise Land Care and regularly talked about safety, he said.

"Right now," Carter said, "it just looks like it's strictly an accident."

Elvin Muriel, 37, the driver of the Pepin truck, was unhurt but was extremely emotionally distraught following the crash, Pepin marketing director Bill Gieseking said.

Muriel, who has worked with the company 15 years, was given some time off and will be offered employee assistance, Gieseking said.

Castillo said that people regularly pulled off the road to tell Ramos what a good job she was doing keeping Summerfield's greenery up.

"If you didn't get to know her," he said, "you missed a good thing. She really was."

Drew Harwell contributed to this report. Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at rcatalanello@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3383.

Lawn mower driver killed in collision with semitrailer truck 06/01/09 [Last modified: Monday, June 1, 2009 11:28pm]
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