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Two migrants slain on payday in Pasco

DADE CITY — The two migrant workers had wives and children back in Mexico, but came here to make the kind of money they couldn't at home.

They worked six days a week, 12 hours a day, tending to orange groves in eastern Pasco County. Santos De La Cruz, 33, and Quirino Velasquez, 46, each earned $373 a week, and sent much of it to their families.

The men lived in a squat, concrete block apartment with De La Cruz's cousin in Tommytown, a rough, impoverished area on the fringe of Dade City where crime and hope for change are both constant: murders and then marches for peace, murders and then church vigils. Outreach programs and dedicated advocates work hard to better an area that has been like this for decades.

After work on Friday, the men walked from their apartment to cash their paychecks and to wire money to their wives at a market a few blocks away.

They never made it.

Less than a tenth of a mile from their home, both men were shot at the corner of Hutchinson and Meredith streets. Their bodies were found in the road about 10 p.m. Friday.

Investigators won't say whether robbery was a motive.

So far, they haven't found any witnesses, even though the area where the men were killed is residential, with narrow streets filled with clusters of homes and residents who can often be found outside, milling around or on their porches.

"It's a mystery as to why these people were shot," said Doug Tobin, a spokesman for the Pasco County Sheriff's Office. "We are hoping someone steps forward."

Horacio Garza is the crew chief for Evans Harvesting, the company that employed both men.

He said they had been working here for about six years, though the men would leave for periods to go home to their families.

Garza is trying to find out if their paychecks were stolen because he wants to get that money to their wives.

"They were nice, hard-working guys," Garza said.

On Saturday, the company bus that carried workers to the orange grove left on time, as usual.

The season runs from November to June. Soon, many workers will leave to pick tomatoes in Georgia.

Saturdays are half-days, and by early afternoon, the men were back. About 20 of them gathered in the spot where De La Cruz and Velasquez were slain. They just stood there, quiet, their solemn eyes looking for answers.

Erin Sullivan can be reached at esullivan@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4609.

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Have information?

Anyone with information about the slayings is urged to call the Pasco Sheriff's Office at (727) 844-7711. Tips also can be made anonymously by calling toll-free 1-800-706-2488.

Two migrants slain on payday in Pasco 05/17/08 [Last modified: Thursday, May 22, 2008 1:49pm]

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