The driver of a tractor-trailer jam-packed with migrants has been charged with transporting undocumented immigrants, according to the Department of Justice.
James Matthew Bradley, 60, claimed he was transporting the trailer from Iowa to Texas and said he was not aware there were people inside the truck.
Bradley told authorities he parked the truck at a Wal-Mart after hearing “banging and shaking in the trailer.” When he opened the trailer, about 30 to 40 “Spanish” people spilled out and almost ran him over, said a criminal complaint. He also said he saw bodies lying on the floor “like meat” and tried to call his wife but not 911.
However, some of the immigrants interviewed by the authorities told a different and nightmarish tale.
The immigrants said they had been smuggled in different groups at different times across the Rio Grande River in Texas and they were asked to pay hefty fees for the crossing. One man said he was supposed to pay $5,500 to smugglers when he reached his destination. He said he was told by a smuggler that people linked to Zetas — a Mexican drug cartel — were charging 12,500 pesos ($700) to bring people across the Rio Grande River in rafts.
Before they were told to go on the truck, a man said, he and two dozen other people were held in a “stash house” in Loredo, Texas, for 11 days.
The truck, when it arrived, was already dark and claustrophobic.
“The smugglers closed the doors and the interior of the trailer was pitch black and it was already hot inside,” wrote James Lara, a special agent with Homeland Security Investigations.
Three of the immigrants claimed there were anywhere between 70 to 200 people during the trip to San Antonio. The man also assured them the truck had refrigeration (even though there was not) and not to worry about the trip.
As time went by, the immigrants, who were packed like sardines, began to have breathing problems and some of them fainted. They were also not provided food or water for the trip.
The people began hitting the walls of the trailer to get the attention of the driver but he did not stop, according to the survivors.
“People had a hole in the trailer wall to provide some ventilation and they started taking turns breathing from the hole,” the complaint states.
When the driver arrived at the destination, he braked the truck so hard, some people fell over because they were so weak. When the doors opened, they ran out and into six black SUVs that were there waiting to pick them up.
One of the immigrants went inside the Wal-Mart to ask for some water. The store clerk gave him some before calling the police.
When the authorities got there, they saw a number of people lying inside or outside the truck and Bradley in the cab.
At least 10 people had died after being transported in the trailer. Eight were found dead inside the vehicle while two died overnight in the local hospital. Thirty others were also taken to the hospital, some with critical injuries. Police believe deaths were caused by asphyxiation and overheating.
The incident highlighted the horrific journey immigrants make to come to the United States at a time when immigrant detentions have spiked under President Donald Trump.
“To maximize their criminal profits, these human smugglers crammed more than 100 people into a tractor-trailer in the stifling Texas summer heat, resulting in 10 dead and 20 others hospitalized," acting US Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director Thomas Homan said in a statement.
"Human smugglers have repeatedly demonstrated that they have absolutely no regard for human life," he added, saying that authorities would "pursue these smugglers and bring them to justice."
Jack Staton, acting assistant director of intelligence for ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations, called human smuggling “100 percent [a] crime against humanity,” adding that “this is just victimizing people that are attempting to get a better life.”
As for Bradley, if convicted, he could face the death penalty or a life sentence.
Banner/Thumbnail: Reuters, Courtesy of KENS5.com/San Antonio