Driver charged as death toll climbs among truck mi­grants

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

A sur­vivor of a hor­ror truck jour­ney in which 10 mi­grants suf­fo­cated to death has told how trav­el­ers took turns breath­ing through a tiny hole in a des­per­ate bid to stay alive, US in­ves­ti­ga­tors said Mon­day. As charges were filed against the driver who was de­tained in Texas near the bor­der with Mex­ico, one of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s cabi­net sec­re­taries de­nounced the “bru­tal­ity” of peo­plesmug­gling gangs.

And two chil­dren were among a group of more than two dozen peo­ple still in hos­pi­tal, suf­fer­ing from heat stroke and de­hy­dra­tion, af­ter an or­deal which ended in a park­ing lot. The mi­grants were dis­cov­ered in the back of the 18-wheel truck in the early hours of Sun­day in San An­to­nio, Texas, a two-hour drive from the US-Mex­ico bor­der, when one of them ap­proached a Wal­mart store em­ployee ask­ing for wa­ter.

The em­ployee brought wa­ter and then called po­lice, who found 38 peo­ple crammed in the trailer with a bro­ken re­frig­er­a­tion sys­tem, parked in the bak­ing Texas heat. Eight peo­ple were pro­nounced dead at the scene and two oth­ers died later at the hos­pi­tal. The swel­ter­ing trailer may have held be­tween 70 to 200 peo­ple, with some mi­grants flee­ing in six SUVs that had been wait­ing when the truck stopped in the park­ing lot, ac­cord­ing to wit­ness ac­counts given to au­thor­i­ties.

‘Driver never stopped’

The doc­u­ment re­counted a har­row­ing jour­ney, with mi­grants hav­ing trou­ble breath­ing and some pass­ing out in the trailer which was be­ing driven by James Mathew Bradley Jr, age 60. “Peo­ple be­gan hit­ting the trailer walls and mak­ing noise to get the driver’s at­ten­tion. The driver never stopped,” ac­cord­ing to one of the mi­grants in­ter­viewed, iden­ti­fied only as JMM-J. “Peo­ple had a hole in the trailer wall to pro­vide some ven­ti­la­tion and they started tak­ing turns breath­ing from the hole.”

JMM-J said he was a Mex­i­can na­tional and part of a group of 29 peo­ple be­ing smug­gled into the United States. He said that af­ter cross­ing the bor­der they joined 70 mi­grants al­ready in the truck’s trailer. US au­thor­i­ties have not re­leased all the vic­tims’ na­tion­al­i­ties or names, pend­ing no­ti­fi­ca­tion of their fam­i­lies. Mex­ico’s for­eign min­istry said four of the dead were Mex­i­can, out of a to­tal of 25 Mex­i­cans rid­ing on the truck. The other 21 re­main hos­pi­tal­ized.

The Gu­atemalan for­eign min­istry said 20-yearold Frank Fuentes was among those killed, and his fam­ily had al­ready been con­tacted to be­gin the process of repa­tri­at­ing his body. Two other Gu­atemalans, one of them a mi­nor, were hos­pi­tal­ized and in sta­ble con­di­tion, the min­istry said. Ac­cord­ing to the mi­grant’s rec­ol­lec­tion, his smug­gler said “peo­ple linked to the Ze­tas” crime car­tel were of­fer­ing pro­tec­tion for the jour­ney through Mex­ico to the US bor­der, and that once ar­riv­ing in the coun­try he was to pay $5,500.

The driver was for­mally charged on Mon­day with one count of trans­port­ing il­le­gal aliens. The fed­eral charge against Bradley is pun­ish­able by life im­pris­on­ment or even the­o­ret­i­cally the death penalty. Bradley has told po­lice he did not know he was trans­port­ing peo­ple un­til he stopped at the Wal­mart store to use the re­stroom and ob­served “bang­ing and shak­ing,” pros­e­cu­tors said.

‘Net­work of death’

Bradley said he was de­liv­er­ing the trailer from Iowa to Texas on the or­ders of his boss, and at­tempted to ad­min­is­ter aid when he found the mi­grants, but did not call 911, ac­cord­ing to the com­plaint. Thirty peo­ple were hos­pi­tal­ized-in­clud­ing two school-age chil­dren-and more than a dozen were in crit­i­cal con­di­tion, suf­fer­ing from heat stroke and de­hy­dra­tion, au­thor­i­ties said. It was un­clear how long the mi­grants were in­side the truck.

Home­land Se­cu­rity Sec­re­tary John Kelly in a state­ment called the deaths “sense­less” and the re­sult of a hu­man trafficking “net­work of abuse and death.”“This tragedy demon­strates the bru­tal­ity of the net­work of which I of­ten speak. These smug­glers have no re­gard for hu­man life and seek only prof­its,” Kelly said. Kelly has been to Mex­ico twice to dis­cuss im­mi­gra­tion, hu­man trafficking and the sprawl­ing cross-bor­der drug trade.

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