Deadly Netflix Crash Prompts Mexico to Investigate Hiring Practices

On June 16, a van carrying eight cast and crew members from Netflix’s The Chosen One swerved off the road and crashed in a desert area on Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula, near Santa Rosalía. Actors Juán Francisco González Aguilar (known professionally as Paco Mufote) and Raymundo Garduño Cruz, both beloved in the Tijuana arts and theater community, died in the accident.

Since then, friends of the victims have called for an investigation, and some Mexican observers have raised questions about Netflix and Redrum, the production outlet behind the TV series, suggesting the film crew was overworked and operating in unsafe working conditions as the companies cut corners to save money.

Netflix declined to comment for this story, and Redrum’s CEO Stacy Perskie did not return messages left by The Daily Beast.

Raymundo Garduño Cruz and Juan Francisco González Aguilar, known professionally as “Paco Mufote” were killed in the crash.

Photo Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/Getty/Facebook

This week, national newspaper Milenio ran a column under the headline “Lo que Netflix no quiere que sepas,” or “What Netflix doesn’t want you to know.”

“Mexican production houses skimp on security, personnel and time, not because they have little profit, but because they can,” wrote Viri Ríos, a journalist and academic. “First, because streaming companies don’t demand that their contractors protect workers (despite touting that they care). And second (and more important), because in Mexico there is no regulation or effective unionization to protect them.”

Novelist Rick Zazueta called out both Netflix and Redrum in a series of Facebook posts demanding an investigation, claiming that Perskie bore some responsibility in the actors’ deaths.

“We cannot make the mistake of letting this happen, we cannot allow the death of these gentlemen to be in vain,” Zazueta wrote in a post last week. “The film industry has to change, we have paid a very high price once again in this country but we have to uphold the rights of the deceased.”

This sentiment was echoed on Thursday by Mercedes Maciel Ortiz, the representative of the Mexican Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare in Baja California Sur, in an interview with The Daily Beast.

“We heard the complaints of those who claim that the companies that hired them did not provide adequate security, and we have concurrence based on that,” she said. “We are investigating the companies that hired the actors, as well as the situation of those injured.”

The federal official said that they will review the circumstances under which the accident occurred, and investigate any possible unsafe travel practices regarding the transportation services that were provided for the actors.

“In any production, transportation is always the first to wake up and they’re the last to go to bed.”

If unsafe conditions are identified, said Maciel Ortiz, “then the companies will be held responsible.”

Víctor Gómez, an administrator with the Community Hospital at Loreto in Baja California Sur, told The Daily Beast that two female passengers were treated for injuries at his facility and they reported that speed may have been a factor in the accident.

Gomez said there are long stretches of the Transpeninsular Highway that are without cell phone service and that the victims cared for in his hospital reported that passengers may have been concerned about reaching a coverage zone as soon as possible.

A police report leaked to The Daily Beast indicated that the vehicle ferrying the Netflix actors had swerved across the highway median line before the driver apparently over-corrected, bringing the vehicle back into the southbound lane before jumping the bar ditch and flipping the van upside down. The report also mentions “climatic conditions”—perhaps a reference to blinding desert sunlight—that could have contributed to the accident.

The document listed the driver, Mufote and Cruz as victims in the incident, but indicated that the driver survived. First responders told The Daily Beast that other passengers included Margarita Peñaloza Luna, Cristina Martínez, Luis M. David V., an individual who was a tutor for Luis M. David V., and Isaías Albelda, who goes by Yeray.

Albelda, who survived the accident and is now mourning his close friends Cruz and Mufote, barely remembers the morning of the crash. The van had arrived to pick up the trio and some others around 7 a.m., he told The Daily Beast during a phone interview. He recalls checking out of the hotel, and that they stopped for some breakfast—burritos—on their way to the Loreto International Airport.

“The next thing I remember is being in an ambulance, pretty much,” said Albelda, who also spoke to Deadline about his experience with the production.

By the time Albelda arrived at the hospital, the calls had begun to pour in. He found out his friends had died from people begging him to say it wasn’t true.

Line producer Rolf Helbig was at the hospital when Albelda woke up and stayed with the actor and his family after confirming the accident’s casualties, the actor said, adding that the production is covering his medical expenses, salary, and rehabilitation. With fractures in both his clavicle and scapula, Albelda said he was told he’s among the most severely injured survivors from the accident.

When asked about the production conditions, Albelda said he never had any major complaints—and that those he did have related more to comfort than safety. “I never felt unsafe or at risk,” he said. Nothing he saw on The Chosen One’s set felt out of the ordinary from his previous work, which includes Fear the Walking Dead.

The vans used for transportation, Albelda added, were “pretty much the same vehicles I’ve seen in other productions.” The actor recalled that Helbig told him some kind of mechanical error or failure had caused the accident—possibly a locked steering wheel.

That said, Albelda added that apart from the driver and his “co-pilot” in the passenger seat, “We never used the seatbelts.”

Netflix and Redrum haven’t responded to allegations that conditions on the set were hazardous or exploitative. Over the weekend, Netflix said that the accident occurred when the crew was en route from Santa Rosalía to the local airport, and that the production was temporarily on hold. Deadline reports that filming resumed on Monday.

In a statement released Monday, the streaming service said, “We are deeply saddened by the tragic accident that took the lives of Ray Garduño and Juan Francisco González. Our thoughts are with their loved ones and with those injured during this unfortunate accident.”

For its part, Redrum said it was “deeply saddened by the passing of our colleagues” and that it was “closely supporting all those affected by this unspeakable tragedy.”

“Redrum has been cooperating with local authorities and initial reports and accounts from witnesses indicate that all safety protocols were in place and this was an unfortunate accident,” the production company said.

Actors and crew involved with the project seemed to have differing views on whether Netflix and Redrum might bear any responsibility for the deadly incident.

One person involved in the production told The Daily Beast that they hadn’t personally encountered a dangerous work environment while filming The Chosen One, which is based on a comic book series by Mark Millar and Peter Gross. Netflix’s website notes the TV show centers on a 12-year-old boy who “learns he’s the returned Jesus Christ, destined to save humankind.” (In casting calls, the show was referred to as American Jesus.)

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Accounts from friends and family both on social media and in news reports have been confusing and unclear.

Photo Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/Getty/Facebook

“It’s a tough situation and a tough topic,” said the source, who was friends with Mufote and Cruz and asked not to be named. “They were very beloved people, but basically it was an accident. It wasn’t anything unusual, anything out of your normal work day.”

“In any production, transportation is always the first to wake up and they’re the last to go to bed. Their job is the most important out of all the jobs in the production because their job is to transport lives.”

The person said that film-shoot logistics are “always a Tetris game because you have to accommodate a lot of people from different parts of the country.” Santa Rosalia, close to where the crash occurred, is isolated and is almost four hours from an airport. Because there aren’t as many weekly flights there, cast and crew might have to stay in the city for several more days, even if filming is over.

“The logistics for everybody has been a nightmare,” they added. “Just because of the remote filming locations, but not because it’s a bad working environment.”

From this cast member’s point of view, social media posts decrying Netflix and Redrum for failing to prevent the accident aren’t fair and “disinformation.”

“I also understand that the film and theater community are upset,” they said. “Because we lost two people we care about. When you lose people you care about, you’re angry and you’re hurt. And sometimes you need someone to blame. It’s just a complicated situation.”

A source who previously worked for the production said its transportation services were often chaotic in their organization. On one trip, for instance, multiple drivers allegedly opted not to use their provided hotel reservations after realizing how far they were from the location where their cargo needed to be stored overnight. The drivers couldn’t neglect their vehicles, so many of the reservations—made, to production’s credit, in a “very good hotel”—went unused.

On top of disrupted rest schedules that left drivers tired, the source noted that the funds provided to cover expenses for these days-long trips were insufficient. Even putting that aside, the source said, the production also wound up paying less than it had promised. “It was a struggle,” they told The Daily Beast in a written message in Spanish, “to make them understand the real expenses” that the journeys demanded. Several of the vans used to transport cast and crew, they added, lacked working air conditioners.

To get to Loreto International, the airport nearest the film’s set in Santa Rosalía, the crew had to travel a punishing highway with dangerous curves and long stretches of straight road. According to a police report obtained by The Daily Beast, the driver—identified as Alberto Jiménez Gómez—is 21 years old. A source emphasized to The Daily Beast that at such a young age, he would lack the experience of a more seasoned driver.

Albelda recalled that Gómez had just joined the production a day before the crash; he’d been brought on to help out with the heavy transportation workload. “As far as I know, he had a chance to rest and everything,” Albelda said, “but I don’t know, to be honest. Sometimes you’re in the hotel and you can’t rest.”

As Mexican authorities and the country’s actors union investigate the crash, loved ones are mourning the victims at memorial services and in online tributes.

Fernando Bonilla, a close friend of Cruz, told the Los Angeles Times that the actor had a “noble and tender heart” and was committed to making theater accessible to children and across venues beyond his home nation’s capital. “Mexico City is a center point for politics and culture, and with theater you see that at an extreme,” Bonilla told the newspaper. “Ray was very focused on trying to transform that situation.”

The father-of-two and stage director also loved baseball, food, and Tijuana’s nightlife. In a Twitter tribute to Cruz, Bonilla wrote, “Now that I’ve been filming in Tijuana for three weeks, I discovered that it was a much less fun city without Ray.”

When asked to quantify the loss of Mufote and Cruz, two artistic titans in such a small community, José Paredes told the Daily Beast that the Tijuana film scene will now feel “emptier, more hollow.”

Paredes directed both Mufote and Albelda in his 2022 film, Contratiempo. Paredes wrote Mufote’s role, a musician named Alex, with the actor specifically in mind. The director praised Mufote’s egoless love he felt for his craft, and for art itself. He also credited Mufote with being the ultimate chameleon—not a one-note character actor but instead someone who could play the hero, the villain, the eccentric, and everyone in between.

“He was very generous. Very lighthearted. It sounds weird, but he was almost childlike—innocent.”

For right now, Mufote’s memory is too fresh for Paredes to watch his Contratiempo performance. But he does cherish one memory from the set, where he recalls Mufote once noticed him humming Cream’s White Room” to himself. Todd Phillips’ Joker, which uses the song in a prominent riot scene, had gotten it stuck in the director’s head. One day on set, he recalled, Mufute—who always carried his guitar with him—began playing the song behind his back.

“When I turned around and looked at him, he just looked at me and he smiled,” he said. “Like a little kid who knows he did something good and he’s excited about it.”

That’s the playful, joyous spirit Paredes and the rest of Tijuana’s close-knit art scene is going to miss.

On Tuesday, as he spoke with The Daily Beast from the airport on his way to a memorial service for his friends, Albelda wondered aloud whether that would be the moment that finally makes this unbelievable tragedy feel real.

“So far, I’m still processing what happened, but I haven’t faced the reality,” he said. “Mentally I know what happened. But it’s hard to digest and to believe.”

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