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Coronavirus US: Brazilian diplomats infected driver who died

A limousine driver who died from COVID-10 contracted the virus after picking up Brazilian diplomats who were guests at President Trump’s Mar-a-Largo resort. 

On March 8, Calixto Villanueva, 67, met the unidentified officials at San Francisco International Airport and drove them around the city, according to a worker’s compensation claim filed Thursday against the limo company’s insurer, Liberty Mutual.

The diplomats had flown in from Palm Beach, Florida, where they spent the previous evening at the Mar-a-Lago event held by Trump for Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. 

An aide at that event subsequently tested positive for COVID-19, as did President Bolsonaro himself. 

Legal documents, obtained by The Mercury News, state that Villanueva fell ill just days later, and was diagnosed with the coronavirus. His condition quickly deteriorated and he was admitted to an intensive care unit.  

Villanueva died in hospital on March 27 – less than three weeks after picking up the diplomats. 

The compensation claim also  reveals that Villanueva’s wife also became sick with COVID-19. She was ‘too weak to communicate with her dying husband in his final days’. 

Villanueva’s step-son is the actor, Nico Santos, best known for his starring roles in the film Crazy Rich Asians and the NBC sitcom Superstore. 

He paid tribute to his step-father in an emotional post shared to Instagram on March 28.  

‘This is my stepdad Sonny and my mom Tita,’ he wrote beneath an old photo of his parent. 

‘My Tito Sonny passed away yesterday after losing his battle with COVID-19. He was a kind, caring man. Friendly to a fault. He always greeted strangers walking past him with a chipper ‘Good Morning!’ and a big smile. He had a great laugh that filled the room with joy.’

He added: ‘My mom is also fighting COVID-19. For the time being, she has not required hospitalization. The loss of my stepfather is devastating but what has gutted me is that this pandemic has kept my family apart. We were unable to be with him during his last days. I can’t hold my mother as she mourns her husband. I can’t hug my brother as he contemplates a world without his father. I can’t wipe away the tears from my nephews’ eyes as they wonder why their Lolo Sonny isn’t here anymore. ‘

The Santos-Villanueva family’s compensation claim has been filed by Pacific Workers’ of Oakland.

They are not seeking a specific amount of damages, and insist the claim is about companies being held accountable. 

Bilal Kassem, the family’s attorney from Pacific Workers’, told the Mercury News: ‘The frontline and essential workers are getting hit much harder than anyone else in our community. We must do more to protect them and their families. 

This is simply a total failure of a system that is supposed to protect people’. 

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