An organization that supports the unhoused and a family are heartbroken after a landscaping contractor hired by the city of Modesto allegedly drove over and killed a woman who was laying in a field of overgrown vegetation.

“I feel terrible because they killed my daughter,” said Christopher Chavez, the father of 27-year-old Christine, who was unhoused and died Saturday, the day when workers driving a John Deere tractor with a pull-behind mower were cleaning up Beard Brook Park.

Christopher said that he immediately went to the spot where his daughter died after learning about her death.

Christine Chavez

“There were many pieces of (her remains) around there and I called the police,” Chavez said. “I went there and I still have pieces of bones, like pieces of her skull and some teeth. It’s terrible.”

At Tuesday’s city council meeting, a representative of the organization We Are Not Invisible addressed city leaders, saying that Chavez’s father will not get the opportunity to say goodbye to his daughter at a proper funeral.

“He doesn’t even get to see his daughter,” said Dez Martinez to the city council during public comment. “You guys get to kiss your kids good night. If you buried them, you get to see them. He does not. Thank you.”

“I’m truly sorry about what happened,” replied Mayor Sue Zwahlen.

Modesto Police Spokeswoman Sharon Bear said city officials believe it is a “terrible accident,” and a detective has returned to the scene to make sure they didn’t miss any details.

At the family home, Christine’s mother and siblings have been gathering to grieve and share their heartbreak and frustration.

“I am sad for what happened to my daughter, and we want justice for the way that she died,” said Josefina Chavez, Christine’s mother.

Christine’s sister, Rosalinda, recalled the moment she saw several remains of her deceased sibling. “…They left big (pieces) of her all over the place, just covered up with the grass. We have to go see the place because we wanted some kind of closure, and to be right there, looking at the ground, and then all of a sudden, seeing (pieces) of her, is horrible.”

E & J Gallo Winery, which owns Beard Brook Park, issued a statement, saying, “Gallo acquired the Beard Brook Park property in Modesto on Friday, July 7, 2023. On Saturday, July 8, 2023, a landscaping contractor was hired to perform weed abatement and fire prevention services. There was an accident at approximately 12:00 p.m. involving the contractor’s tractor and an individual who was not visible and laying in a tall, weeded area. The contractor immediately contacted the Modesto Police Department, and upon arrival, MPD officers declared the individual was deceased.”

On Friday, Grover Landscaping Services, Inc. released a statement retelling the events that occurred.

“In a dry, overgrown area, our operator discovered the body of a woman impacted by the pull-behind mower, at which time he contacted the Modesto Police Department,” the statement reads.

Gallo and the landscaping contractor are fully cooperating with law enforcement authorities on this situation.

“Gallo expresses its sincere condolences to the family of the victim,” the statement continued.

Jose Zermeño, Christine’s brother-in-law, said workers should have been more alert.

“I work with machinery, I know when you are with machinery, you are paying attention to what is ahead of you, especially if you have something dragging behind you,” Zermeño said. “And for him not to see anything laying in front of him, he wasn’t doing his job.”

The Chavez family has pledged to take care of Christine’s 9-year-old daughter, who will now grow up without her mother.

Martinez, who spoke of Christine at the council meeting, says the county needs to do more for its homeless population.

“What happened to building affordable housing, tiny home villages, safe camps, to get people off the streets so they’re not raped, they’re not killed, and they’re not run over while taking a nap in a park?”

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