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  • Jim Ferraro

The Day in Question when Donna Was Exposed to the Fungicide

As she gave her testimony about her past, the birth of her son and the events that affected her pregnancy that fateful day when she was sprayed with the toxic fungicide, Donna stepped out of the jury box and began using the blown-up photos and a red marker to diagram her route as she explained what happened to her on the first or second of November 1989.

She said she walked down SW 96th Street with her daughter and entered a driveway into a shopping plaza. It was a beautiful day, but noticeably windy—so windy she had difficulty pushing the stroller.

As she walked into the driveway and past a building next to the car wash in the plaza where there were gas pumps and a Food Spot, she felt sprinkles. At the time, she thought it was nothing more than a sun shower. Of course, that wasn’t an uncommon occurrence for south Florida. So Donna kept walking, continuing to push the stroller in the direction of the building near where the gas pumps were located in the front of the plaza.

It was there that she noticed a tractor across the street on 137th Avenue, where Pine Island Farms was located. At the time, 137th Avenue was just a two-lane road, so the distance from where she stood to the edge of farm field wasn’t far. The tractor was stuck in mud, very close to the road. It was idling, but the sprayer attachment was bucking and jerking. As Donna described it to the courtroom, “It had tons of a foggy, cloudy mist blowing and coming out of it.”

Out of curiosity, Donna stopped to watch what was happening. The bucking and jerking continued, as did the spraying of the mist. Donna stood motionless and mesmerized. She wondered what was happening. Before she realized it, the mist began blowing toward her. She couldn’t get out of the way. Her clothes and body were soaked, as though she had stood outside in the rain. Her hair, face, arms, and legs were all exposed and doused in this unknown colorless, odorless spray.

When it occurred to Donna that both she and her daughter were soaking wet, she turned around and pushed the stroller back toward the shops. She stopped under an overhang near a Pizza Hut, turned, and looked back at the tractor one last time. Spray was still spewing into the air.

Donna went home and told her husband what had happened that day.

At the time, she never imagined she had been sprayed with anything dangerous. Even after her daughter became ill a week later, vomiting as if she had a terrible flu, Donna still didn’t suspect they had encountered anything that would harm her unborn child.

While recounting her story, Donna testified that in retrospect, she believed Adrianna’s “flu” was caused by her exposure to the Benlate. This testimony infuriated Glynn and Gaebe, who both objected in the form of a motion for a mistrial, because Donna’s offering of this opinion was directly contrary to an earlier ruling made by Judge Donner during the Frye hearings just one week before the trial began that Donna could not express an opinion as to the cause of Adrianna’s fever. Thankfully, the judge denied their motion, though she did instruct the jury to disregard that remark.

Benlate wasn’t on the Castillos’ radar as a possible cause for John’s condition until Donna was contacted by John Ashton. It was in April of 1993 that she first learned the mist she was sprayed with that day might have been the culprit.

In my next post, I recount what Ashton told Donna and her husband. You’ll find more details, as well as some of my personal story, in my book, Blindsided, from which this post is adapted.


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