The Kern County coroner’s office on Wednesday identified the man who died last week when the excavating machinery he was operating in an agricultural field south of Bakersfield struck and ignited a natural gas line, killing him instantly.

Earlimart resident and father Joseph Michael “Mike” Ojeda, 44, died from “multiple traumatic blunt force injuries and thermal injuries“ at 3:33 p.m. Friday at the northwest corner of Wible and Houghton roads, the department said in a news release. It called his death an accident.

Ojeda’s employer, McFarland-based Big N Deep Ag Development Co., said he had worked for the company for about six years.

Ojeda was using a Caterpillar dozer and ripper to prepare land for planting almonds when the machine hit a 3-foot-diameter high-pressure transmission pipeline owned by Pacific Gas and Electric Co.

Besides killing Ojeda, the resulting explosion caused second- and third-degree burns to nearby resident Gloria Ruckman and her mother, Amalia Leal, but apparently caused no injury to Ruckman’s newborn baby. Both women were listed in ”good“ condition Wednesday at San Joaquin Community Hospital, having been upgraded from ”fair“ the day before.

Cal-OSHA and the California Public Utilities Commission are investigating the incident.

Members of Ojeda’s family set up a website Tuesday to raise money to pay for his funeral expenses. As of about 4 p.m. Wednesday, the site had gathered 11 donations totaling $365, well short of the $5,000 goal.

People who posted messages to website,, described Ojeda as a loving, hard-working father and uncle.

“To know you and call you and your family (friends) has been a honor,” commenter Billie Magee wrote in one post. “I will never forget you and our friendship that we had. Love you Mike. ... You are all in my prayers. I’m so sorry. Mike was a very good friend. I’m going to miss him a lot.”

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