EXCLUSIVE: After the June 16 fatal crash that claimed the lives of two actors and injured six others of the Netflix cast and crew The chosensurvivor Yeray Albelda spoke to Deadline about the loss of his close friends Raymundo Garduño Cruz and Juan Francisco Gonzalez Aguilar (professionally known as Paco Mufote).
The trio were hired to play miners in the series produced by Redrum in Baja California Sur, Mexico. Albelda and González started work on June 2 and lived together; Garduño had an earlier start date.
Albelda, Garduño, González and the rest of the cast and crew involved in the accident headed to Loreto International Airport to catch flights to their respective home cities – Albelda, Garduño and Gonzalez were on their way to Tijuana – for a week and a half break from footage. They were supposed to return to the set after the break to work through July 16th.
Eight people in total The chosen were in the van: Albelda, Garduño, González, two stunt coordinators, a young actor and his tutor, and the driver; only the driver and passenger seated next to him were wearing seat belts. The driver was new and had arrived just a day before the set to replace a different driver who needed a break as demand for transportation was high.
Albelda suffered head trauma in the accident and cannot remember the tragic journey. He was under observation for amnesia and underwent several tests, all of which returned to normal. Physically, he is tending to a fractured collarbone and scapula, but none of his injuries are fatal. Doctors ordered him to rest for 6-8 weeks.
“I remember handing over my hotel room key that morning and heading out to buy a burrito as the van was picking us up at 7am and we didn’t have time for breakfast. After that, I remember waking up in the ambulance,” said Albelda.
“Inside the van, the configuration was three rows for passengers behind the driver and passenger seats in the front. I normally sat in the second row, and I believe that’s where I was when the accident happened. As I understand it, Paco and Ray were sitting in different rows, at the end closest to the van’s sliding door. I was told that the van turned many times and the sliding door opened. My guess based on what I’ve been told is that [without seatbelts]Paco and Ray were ejected.”
Albelda doesn’t blame Netflix or Redrum for the accident, and says they both went out of their way to support him afterwards.
“They did the right thing and they were fair,” he said. “This wasn’t like a ticking time bomb situation where at any moment something would go wrong – no. There’s no way anyone could imagine that would happen. Trust me, I just lost two good friends I’ve known for many years. If I felt someone was responsible, I would speak up to bring justice to their families.”
Albelda has worked on about five major productions, including Fear the walking dead, and says the vans used in all of them appeared to be in comparable condition. He describes the vans used in The chosen as “not brand new made in 2022, but definitely not old”. He says there was nothing noteworthy that made him worry about the van they took to the airport, but he also notes that he is not a mechanic and is not aware of any mechanical issues.
“I recently had to visit the location where the accident van is stored to claim any property I may have left behind. Seeing it again and how it was destroyed had a big impact on me,” said Albelda. “Some people have suggested that the tires may be below average so I made sure to look specifically at the condition of all four and those people are incorrect. The wheels were indeed in good condition.”
He added: “One thing I will say is that no one encouraged those sitting in the back of the van to wear seat belts. Only the driver and front passenger wore their seat belts consistently. To be clear, there were seat belts in the vans, but rarely did anyone use them. I’ll speak for myself by saying I never did. I always felt safe in the van and could not have imagined that such a terrible accident could happen.”
Most of the injured were discharged from the hospital the same day, except for Albelda and a stunt coordinator who was also kept under observation. The stunt coordinator recently told Albelda that she remains in hospital care closer to home.
I work in The chosen resumed Monday, a decision that Albelda supports as a tribute to her friends. Due to his physical and emotional trauma, he chose to leave the series. The production is covering his medical expenses and will continue to pay his salary as if he had worked to the end, according to Albelda.
Albelda learned that there were allegations of poor working conditions and shady business practices behind the scenes at The chosen. An outspoken critic was novelist Rick Zazueta, who claims to have an insight into the production thanks to insider sources.
Albelda says that Zazueta recently sent him a friend request on Facebook which he accepted, but clarifies that he never met or heard from him before the accident.
“I read your accusations and found them very interesting,” Albelda said. “I never spoke to him and I don’t know who his sources are. I can only speak from my experience as someone who has worked on several productions of this size. Yes, they are exhausting and we work long hours. I don’t know if my experience is different because I’m used to working 16 hours a day, but everything in The chosen was on par with my experience in saying a show like Fear the walking dead. It was business as usual for me. My biggest complaint is that sometimes we got picked up to be on set at 9am, but we didn’t film until 2pm, but that’s normal in this business.”
He continued, “Shooting schedules were often in flux because if someone had to isolate themselves due to Covid infection, we would have to switch to something else. My complaints are minor. I never felt like my life was on the line or that I was being taken advantage of. There was never a moment when I wanted to complain or leave the production. I was paid what I was promised and when I was promised. I know we earn less than American actors, but I was never deceived about what I would get paid. I have never been abused or exploited in any way or treated unfairly. I’m not saying this isn’t someone else’s experience, but it wasn’t for me. It was also nothing I witnessed firsthand.”
Netflix declined to comment on this story. In a statement released on Monday, the streamer said, “We are deeply saddened by the tragic accident that took the lives of Ray Garduño and Juan Francisco González. Our thoughts are with his loved ones and those injured during this unfortunate accident.”
Albelda and other friends of Garduño and González gathered on Tuesday afternoon for a memorial service in honor of the actors. It was an emotional encounter that celebrated two honorable men who left behind family, friends and admirers after a lifetime of giving of themselves and their art.
“Both are longtime theater friends with whom I’ve spent a lot – good times and bad. We’ve been on tour together and we all know each other’s families,” said Albelda. “I’ve known Paco for about 18 years and Ray for about seven years. Ray was the rebel. I never posted pictures on set because we signed NDAs that prevent spoilers from being released. But Ray, as the rebel, loved being on set and posted some pictures anyway. He was very proud to be working on this production. He was very much the life of the party. When we had time off, he would go to the local bars or listen to music by the pool.”
“I remember that Ray and I met in 2015, we collaborated on three projects through his theater company, Teatro Inmigrante,” continued Albelda. “Through his company he worked a lot with children, and I remember that it was very important to him that young actors were treated like professionals. He worked with very talented actors who were smart; he didn’t want people to underestimate what they could accomplish. He also addressed issues of social justice in his productions. We were talking about his character at his memorial yesterday; he had a very strong personality that didn’t bother everyone in the right way. But it was because of his severity that he was able to help bring about change and stand up for what was important. He was also very generous and wanted everyone to succeed. You always knew where you were with him.”
“Paco and I met at the first theater audition I ever had. I want everyone to know that his stage name Mufote represents his three greatest passions: music, photography and theatre. What stood out most about Paco was his generosity, his empathy and his humility. He treated everyone equally, from the extras to the star of whatever project he was involved in. While we were filming in Santa Rosalia, he hated being trapped inside the hotel. He would hang out in the community and start random conversations with the locals. He visited the museums and learned the history of the area, which he would teach us when we met later. Paco craved knowledge. He was also good at lending an ear or a shoulder.”
He added: “That photo you saw on Ray’s Instagram from Paco’s birthday represents how Paco wanted to celebrate another year of life. A simple meeting between friends, he didn’t want to party or get drunk. I remember one occasion when we were filming a scene in the desert and he gave his umbrella to someone else who needed it more. Both are leaving a huge hole in the hearts of those who knew them.”
This tragedy did not dissuade Albelda from continuing to work as an actor; in fact, it spurred him on to work even harder knowing that two actors he looked up to no longer have that opportunity.
“Their deaths are tragic, but I told their families to find comfort in the fact that they were doing what they loved most. They were living their dream. I take comfort in the fact that Paco and Ray died this way and not from an incurable disease or worse. I was given the gift to live another day and I don’t take it lightly. I want to continue acting and honor Paco and Ray by sharing everything they’ve taught me. I will share my dream with them for the rest of my life,” he said.