Im­mi­grants wept, pleaded for wa­ter and pounded on the truck

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - WORLD -

The trac­tor-trailer was pitch­black in­side, crammed with maybe 90 im­mi­grants or more, and al­ready hot when it left the Texas bor­der town of Laredo for the 150-mile trip north to San An­to­nio.

It wasn’t long be­fore the pas­sen­gers, sweat­ing pro­fusely in the ris­ing oven-like heat, started cry­ing and plead­ing for wa­ter. Chil­dren whim­pered. Peo­ple took turns breath­ing through a sin­gle hole in the wall. They pounded on the sides of the truck and yelled to try to get the driver’s at­ten­tion. Then they be­gan pass­ing out.

By the time the driver stopped at a Wal­mart in San An­to­nio on Satur­day night and opened the door, as many as eight pas­sen­gers were dead and two more would soon die in an im­mi­grant smug­gling at­tempt gone trag­i­cally awry.

The de­tails of the jour­ney were re­counted Monday by a sur­vivor who spoke to The As­so­ci­ated Press and in a fed­eral crim­i­nal com­plaint against the driver, James Matthew Bradley, who could face the death penalty over the 10 lives lost.

“Af­ter an hour I heard ... peo­ple cry­ing and ask­ing for wa­ter. I, too, was sweat­ing and peo­ple were de­spair­ing. That’s when I lost con­scious­ness,’’ 27-year-old Adan Lal­ravega told the AP from his hospi­tal bed.

Bradley, 60, of Clear­wa­ter, Florida, ap­peared in fed­eral court on charges of il­le­gally trans­port­ing im­mi­grants for fi­nan­cial gain, re­sult­ing in death. He was or­dered held for an­other hear­ing on Thurs­day.

He did not en­ter a plea or say any­thing about what hap­pened. But in court pa­pers, he told au­thor­i­ties he didn’t re­al­ize any­one was in­side his 18-wheeler un­til he parked and got out to re­lieve him­self.

In ad­di­tion to the dead, nearly 20 oth­ers res­cued from the rig were hos­pi­tal­ized in dire con­di­tion, many suf­fer­ing from ex­treme de­hy­dra­tion and heat­stroke.

A num­ber of those aboard were from Mexico and Gu­atemala. Many of the im­mi­grants had hired smug­glers who brought them across the U.S. bor­der, hid them in safe houses and then put them aboard the trac­tor-trailer for the ride north­ward, ac­cord­ing to ac­counts given to in­ves­ti­ga­tors.

“Even though they have the driver in cus­tody, I can guar­an­tee you there’s go­ing to be many more peo­ple we’re look­ing for to pros­e­cute,’’ said Thomas Ho­man, act­ing di­rec­tor of U.S. Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment.

Bradley told in­ves­ti­ga­tors that the trailer had been sold and he was trans­port­ing it for his boss from Iowa to Brownsville, Texas. Af­ter hear­ing bang­ing and shak­ing, he opened the door and was “sur­prised when he was run over by ‘Span­ish’ peo­ple and knocked to the ground,’’ ac­cord­ing to the crim­i­nal com­plaint.

He said he did not call 911, even though he knew at least one pas­sen­ger was dead.

Bradley told au­thor­i­ties that he knew the trailer re­frig­er­a­tion sys­tem didn’t work and that the four ven­ti­la­tion holes were prob­a­bly clogged.

The truck was reg­is­tered to Pyle Trans­porta­tion Inc. of Schaller, Iowa. Pres­i­dent Brian Pyle said that he had sold the truck to some­one in Mexico and that Bradley was sup­posed to de­liver it to a pick-up point in Brownsville.

“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. He said he had no idea why Bradley took the round­about route he de­scribed to in­ves­ti­ga­tors.

Bradley told au­thor­i­ties that he had stopped in Laredo _ which would have been out of his way if he were trav­el­ling di­rectly to Brownsville _ to get the truck washed and de­tailed be­fore head­ing back 150 miles (240 kilo­me­tres) north to San An­to­nio. From there, he would have had to drive 275 miles south again to get to Brownsville.

“I just can’t be­lieve it. I’m stunned, shocked. He is too good a per­son to do any­thing like this,’’ said Bradley’s fi­ancee, Dar­nisha Rose of Louisville, Ken­tucky. “He helps peo­ple, he doesn’t hurt peo­ple.’’

One pas­sen­ger de­scribed a per­ilous jour­ney that be­gan in Mexico, telling in­ves­ti­ga­tors he and oth­ers crossed into the U.S. by raft, pay­ing smug­glers 12,500 Mex­i­can pe­sos (about $700), an amount that also bought pro­tec­tion of­fered by the Zeta drug car­tel.

AP PHOTO

El­dia Con­tr­eras wipes away a tear as she takes part in a vigil at San Fer­nando Cathe­dral for vic­tims who died as a re­sult of be­ing trans­ported in a trac­tor-trailer Sun­day.

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