GRUE­SOME DIS­COV­ERY

Nine mi­grants found dead in trac­tor-trailer in Texas in botched smug­gling at­tempt

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - ERIC GAY AND WILL WEISSERT

SAN AN­TO­NIO — Nine peo­ple died af­ter be­ing crammed into a swel­ter­ing trac­tor-trailer found parked out­side a Wal­mart in the mid­sum­mer Texas heat.

Author­i­ties on Sun­day called it an im­mi­grant-smug­gling at­tempt gone wrong.

The driver was ar­rested, and nearly 20 oth­ers res­cued from the rig were hos­pi­tal­ized in dire con­di­tion, many with ex­treme de­hy­dra­tion and heat­stroke, of­fi­cials said.

“We’re look­ing at a hu­man-traf­fick­ing crime,” said San An­to­nio Po­lice chief Wil­liam McManus. He called it “a hor­rific tragedy.” Author­i­ties were called to the San An­to­nio park­ing lot late Satur­day or early Sun­day and found eight dead in­side the truck.

A ninth vic­tim died in hos­pi­tal, said Liz John­son, spokesper­son for U.S. Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment.

The vic­tims “were very hot to the touch. So these peo­ple were in this trailer with­out any signs of any type of wa­ter,” fire chief Charles Hood said.

Author­i­ties would not say whether the trailer was locked when they ar­rived, but they said it had no work­ing air con­di­tion­ing.

It was just the lat­est smug­gling-by-truck op­er­a­tion to end in tragedy. In one of the worst cases on record in the United States, 19 im­mi­grants locked in­side a sti­fling rig died in Vic­to­ria, Texas, in 2003.

Based on ini­tial in­ter­views with sur­vivors of the week­end tragedy, more than 100 peo­ple may have been packed into the back of the 18-wheeler at one point in its jour­ney, ICE act­ing di­rec­tor Thomas Ho­man said.

Thirty-nine were in­side when res­cuers ar­rived, and the rest were be­lieved to have es­caped or hitched rides to their next des­ti­na­tion, of­fi­cials said.

Some of the sur­vivors told author­i­ties they were from Mex­ico, and four ap­peared to be be­tween 10 and 17 years old, Ho­man said.

In­ves­ti­ga­tors gave no de­tails on where the rig be­gan its jour­ney or where it was headed.

But Ho­man said it was un­likely the truck was used to carry the im­mi­grants across the bor­der into the United States. He said peo­ple from Latin Amer­ica who rely on smug­gling net­works typ­i­cally cross the bor­der on foot and are then picked up by a driver.

“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,” Ho­man said.

Fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors said James Mathew Bradley Jr., 60, of Clear­wa­ter, Fla., was taken into cus­tody and would be charged Mon­day.

The U.S. Home­land Se­cu­rity Depart­ment stepped in to take the lead in the in­ves­ti­ga­tion from San An­to­nio po­lice.

It was not im­me­di­ately known whether Bradley had an at­tor­ney who could speak on his be­half.

The truck had an Iowa li­cence plate and was reg­is­tered to Pyle Trans­porta­tion Inc. of Schaller, Iowa.

A com­pany of­fi­cial did not im­me­di­ately re­spond to a phone mes­sage seek­ing com­ment.

San An­to­nio is about a 240-kilo­me­tre drive from the Mex­i­can bor­der.

The tem­per­a­ture in San An­to­nio reached 38 C on Satur­day and didn’t dip be­low 32 C un­til af­ter 10 p.m.

The tragedy came to light af­ter a per­son from the truck ap­proached a Wal­mart em­ployee in the park­ing lot and asked for wa­ter late Satur­day or early Sun­day, McManus said.

The em­ployee gave the per­son wa­ter and then called po­lice, who found the dead and the des­per­ate in­side the rig.

ERIC GAY, THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Po­lice in­ves­ti­gate the scene where a trac­tor-trailer packed with mi­grants was found out­side a Wal­mart store in sti­fling sum­mer heat. Nine peo­ple died in the hor­rific smug­gling case.

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