SPUTNIK–On Monday the driver a of a tractor trailer found filled with immigrants in a sweltering San Antonio Wal-Mart parking lot was charged in the deaths of 10 of his passengers and could possibly face the death penalty.
Federal prosecutors described that the trailer driven by 60-year-old James Matthew Bradley Jr, was packed with 90 or more people, who had to pound on the wall to get the driver’s attention and suffered such extreme heat that they had to take turns breathing through a hole.
Authorities say some of the people were immigrants from Guatemala and Mexico.
Bradley, of Clearwater, Florida, made a federal court appearance on charges of illegally taking money for smuggling immigrants, resulting in death. He claims that he was not aware there were people in the trailer until he exited the 18-wheeler to use the bathroom. He did not enter a plea.
Authorities found eight bodies in the trailer, and two people died later at the hospital. Twenty others had to be hospitalized with heatstroke and extreme dehydration.
Bradley was transporting the trailer from Iowa to Brownsville, Texas for his boss after it had been sold, according to what he told investigators. The criminal complaint states that he heard noise coming from the trailer, and was “surprised when he was run over by ‘Spanish’ people and knocked to the ground,” after opening the door.
Fire Chief Charles Hood said the victims “were very hot to the touch. So these people were in this trailer without any signs of any type of water.”
At least four of the passengers were reportedly between the ages of 10 to 17 years old. Passengers described the dire conditions inside the trailer to authorities, with some saying they were instructed to pay smugglers thousands of dollars once they reached San Antonio.
San Antonio Police Chief William McManus called the incident a “horrific tragedy.”
“We’re looking at a human-trafficking crime,” he said.
Bradley told investigators that he was aware the trailer’s refrigeration system wasn’t functioning and that the four ventilation ports were likely obstructed. He also admitted to not calling emergency services, even though he knew at least one person had died.
Brian Pyle, president of Pyle Transportation Inc in Schaller, Iowa said he sold the truck to a man in Mexico and had hired Bradley, an independent contractor who was supposed to drive it to Brownsville, dropping it off at a pick-up point.
“I’m absolutely sorry it happened. I really am. It’s shocking. I’m sorry my name was on it,” Pyle said, referring to the truck.
For reasons that are unclear Bradley took a roundabout route for his trip, driving out of his way to Laredo, Texas to get the truck washed and detailed before heading to San Antonio, 150 miles to the north. To get to Brownsville he would then have drive back south 275 miles.
“I just can’t believe it,” Bradley’s fiancee Darnisha Rose said. “I’m stunned, shocked. He is too good a person to do anything like this … He helps people, he doesn’t hurt people.”
“To maximize their criminal profits, these human smugglers crammed more than 100 people into a tractor trailer in the stifling Texas summer heat,” US Immigration and Customs Enforcement Acting Director Thomas Homan remarked. “Human smugglers have repeatedly demonstrated that they have absolutely no regard for human life.”