Hazmat incident: Many questions about chemical that killed Merced County farmer

Work continued Friday at the farm John Menenzes owned, but workers said they are still in shock and heartbroken. Meanwhile, investigators tried to figure out what went wrong and what chemical turned deadly.

RELATED: 1 dead, another treated after hazmat spill in Merced County

Just before noon, witnesses reported the victim was out back checking or prepping farming chemicals when he was overcome by toxic fumes.

"We had one of the subject's friends was the caller, he's the one that called us in and he believed there was something wrong, and he didn't want to approach the area due to chemical and stuff that were out there," said Daryl Allen of the Merced County Sheriff's Office.

The witness - who was also a farm chemical sales rep - could smell the odor in the air and called for help. Deputies who arrived immediately rushed in to rescue the teenager, but it was too late to save his dad. On Friday, investigators from several agencies - including the agricultural commissioner's office - continued to scour the property looking for clues.

"A (big) question is what chemicals were used, so we're trying to figure that out. Were the chemicals being mixed? We're trying to figure that out. And if environmental impacts had something to do with it, like temperature changes," said Allen.

The only thing detectives do know is that the toxic chemical is so dangerous that responding Merced County deputies also had to be treated for exposure. Coroner's officials had to develop a methodical plan to even remove the body from the bio-suit it was in.

Fire investigators are also involved and checking records of chemicals purchased recently. Officials are trying to figure out if the chemical was in powder form, liquid, or combined with another agricultural product.

About two miles from the scene, school is out at Los Banos High School, but the mood is one of sadness. The victim who survived is a student-athlete described as a standout baseball player.

Some who knew John Junior said he is going to be a senior at Los Banos High School. He's recovering at Valley Children's Hospital.
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