Migrant worker killed by SUV in St. Catharines remembered as 'great cook,' friend and father

Fermin Soto Sanchez died after being hit by an SUV while he was walking home on Monday evening. He was a husband, son and father of three children in Mexico, where his family relied on his income.

'He used to set food aside when he cooked, for all of us,' says co-worker of Fermin Soto Sanchez

Fermin Soto Sanchez worked at Spring Valley Gardens in St. Catharines for more than 10 years. The migrant worker, whose family lives in Mexico, died after being hit by an SUV Monday evening while walking home. (Submitted by Alfonso Ramos)

Alfonso Ramos recalls the only sound around him Monday evening was that of his own voice and the voices of his two co-workers, as they joked and walked alongside their bicycles down Seventh Street Louth in St. Catharines, Ont.

"There was no traffic, [the road] was empty, when that white car came out of nowhere and hit us," said Ramos in a telephone interview with CBC Hamilton, translated from Spanish.

"I just felt the blunt blow and then I was laying on the floor." 

Ramos, Fermin Soto Sanchez and Francisco Cordova, all migrant workers, were hit by an SUV. Soto Sanchez died in the hospital later that night. 

Fermin Soto Sanchez was like family to his fellow migrant workers and housemates, who all cooked and played soccer together. (Submitted by Alfonso Ramos)

The three men were on their way home after they had spent the afternoon walking around town, according to Ramos.

"We got off work at 2:30 and Fermin said we should go for a walk to clear the mind and not be locked up at home," he recalled.

"We were out for a while looking at the water, the boats … Eventually we decided to go home and make dinner." 

The three of them, all from Mexico, worked together at Spring Valley Gardens. They also lived together a few kilometres away from the farm. Ramos said Soto Sanchez had worked with the farm for at least 10 years, going back and forth between his home state of Michoacán, where his wife and three children live, and Canada. 

As the three set off for home Monday, Cordova's bike got a flat tire.

 "So we started to walk. We were talking, sharing jokes," Ramos said. 

They were discussing dinner plans moments before the SUV hit them. Cordova was thrown far from where they were hit, Ramos said. Soto Sanchez was laying close by Ramos.

"I thought that Francisco was more hurt but, instantly, Fermin did not react," Ramos said, with a long pause. 

"He never reacted. I thought he had just passed out."

A pedestrian who was walking by called 911, while Ramos and Cordova tried to wake up their friend before emergency crews arrived. 

All three were taken to hospital. 

"[The doctors] didn't want to tell us what happened with him. 'What happened? What happened?' we asked. Ten minutes later they told us that he had passed.

"It was very ugly." 

Vigil Friday to honour Soto Sanchez

A candlelight vigil to honour Soto Sanchez is taking place on Friday at 7 p.m.

Community members are invited to the Spring Valley Gardens parking lot at 1846 Seventh Street, where gatherers will then be walking to the place where he was hit, near Woodland Public School.

Spring Valley Gardens has also set up a GoFundMe to support his family, "as they have lost their source of income," the page says. The initiative has raised over $36,000.

CBC Hamilton reached out to Spring Valley Gardens for comment but did not hear back before deadline.

Niagara police said in a release that a 36-year-old was killed Monday evening after being hit by a white Ford Edge and that "the cause of the collision remains under investigation." No charges have been laid, the release said. 

Ramos said he has spoken with police. He and Cordova are now both back home from the hospital, though still with injuries. Ramos said he had broken several bones.

I have a young daughter too so he'd always talk to me about his daughter and I'd talk to him about mine.- Alfonso Ramos, friend and co-worker of Fermin Soto Sanchez

Following the incident, St. Catharines councillor Karrie Porter raised concerns over road safety and improving cycling infrastructure and sidewalks.

She said the city's transportation plans need to include consultation with workers like Soto Sanchez, Ramos and Cordova.

"I don't think migrant workers have ever been consulted on any city initiative, although thousands of them spend much of their lives working and contributing to this community," she wrote on Twitter

She also mentioned that this is not the first time a migrant worker was killed by a driver behind the wheel of a vehicle. She brought up a woman by the name of Zenaida, a mother of two and a farm worker in nearby Niagara-on-the-Lake who was killed in a hit-and-run in 2019. 

Soto Sanchez was also a parent. Ramos recalled their regular chats about their kids. 

"He would always talk to me about his [three-year-old] daughter. I have a young daughter too so he'd always talk to me about his daughter and I'd talk to him about mine," he said. 

According to him, Soto Sanchez also took care financially of his parents, who also lived in his family home in Mexico.

Alfonso Ramos, pictured, worked and lived with his friend, Fermin Soto Sanchez, in St. Catharines. He remembers Soto Sanchez as a good person, who got along with everybody. (Submitted by Alfonso Ramos)

After three years of working together at Spring Valley Gardens, Ramos has a lot of great memories with Soto Sanchez. 

"He used to set food aside when he cooked, for all of us."

Soto Sanchez's specialty was mole, a traditional Mexican sauce rich in spices and other ingredients. 

"It was very good, he was a great cook."

According to Ramos, Soto Sanchez is being remembered as a good person, who was appreciated by all and got along with everybody. 

He said him and his roommates are very close and, as they are their family here, away from home, they "got along for everything," from cooking carne asada (barbecue) or tacos, to going out for walks or playing soccer together. 

But that doesn't feel the same anymore.

"We are all very sad," said Ramos.

"It's not fair that suddenly, he left us." 


Aura Carreño Rosas

Freelance reporter, CBC Hamilton

Aura Carreño Rosas is a Hamilton-based freelance journalist from Venezuela, with a passion for pop culture and unique people with diverse journeys.