U.S. charges driver in hu­man smug­gling

Tenth mi­grant in hellish big rig dies

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NATIONAL -

SAN ANTONIO — A truck driver faces the pos­si­bil­ity of the death penalty or life in prison un­der a fed­eral crim­i­nal com­plaint filed against him Mon­day in the deaths of 10 peo­ple who were in the coun­try il­le­gally who were be­ing smug­gled in a sti­fling trac­tor-trailer found in a Wal-Mart park­ing lot.

In out­lin­ing their im­mi­grant-smug­gling case against James Matthew Bradley Jr., fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors de­picted the trailer as pitch-black, crammed with 90 peo­ple or more by some es­ti­mates, and so suf­fo­cat­ingly hot that one pas­sen­ger said they took turns breath­ing through a hole and pound­ing on the walls to get the driver’s at­ten­tion.

Bradley, 60, was charged un­der a fed­eral law against know­ingly trans­port­ing peo­ple who are in the coun­try il­le­gally — a law that pro­vides for an un­lim­ited prison term or cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment if the crime re­sults in a death. He made a brief ini­tial ap­pear­ance in U.S. Dis­trict Court on Mon­day, an­swer­ing, “Yes, I do,” when Judge Betsy Ch­est­ney asked if he un­der­stood the max­i­mum penal­ties he faced.

Three fed­eral mar­shals es­corted Bradley, who was hand­cuffed, to and from the court­room. Wear­ing a dark-blue jail uni­form, he ap­peared com­posed, giv­ing brief, di­rect an­swers to the judge’s ques­tions.

When the truck was found early Sun­day morn­ing out­side a Wal-Mart store packed with peo­ple in the coun­try il­le­gally, law en­force­ment of­fi­cials said eight of them had al­ready died from heat ex­po­sure or as­phyx­i­a­tion. The death toll rose to nine on Sun­day af­ter­noon, and to 10 on Mon­day morn­ing.

Twenty-nine other peo­ple found in the truck were hos­pi­tal­ized, some of them in crit­i­cal con­di­tion. In ad­di­tion, of­fi­cials said, Bradley told in­ves­ti­ga­tors that when he first opened the truck, 30 to 40 other peo­ple who had been trapped in­side fled.

Sur­vivors who were in­ter­viewed by in­ves­ti­ga­tors said they were loaded into the truck from var­i­ous lo­ca­tions in or near Laredo, Texas, and their es­ti­mates of the num­ber of peo­ple in­side at var­i­ous times ranged from 70 to as many as 180 to 200.

“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 29 oth­ers hos­pi­tal­ized,” Thomas Ho­man, act­ing di­rec­tor of Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment, said in a state­ment. “Hu­man smug­glers have re­peat­edly demon­strated that they have ab­so­lutely no re­gard for hu­man life.”

In a state­ment in­cluded in the com­plaint, James Lara, a Home­land Se­cu­rity Depart­ment agent, said that Bradley, who does not own the truck, waived his right to re­main silent and spoke to in­ves­ti­ga­tors. He told them that he “was un­aware of the con­tents and/or cargo” and had been hired to de­liver the truck to a new owner.

Af­ter park­ing out­side the Wal-Mart, “he heard bang­ing and shak­ing in the trailer,” Lara said. “Bradley said he went to open the doors and was sur­prised when he was run over by ‘Span­ish’ peo­ple and knocked to the ground. Bradley said he then no­ticed bod­ies just ly­ing on the floor like meat.”

“Bradley said he knew the trailer re­frig­er­a­tion sys­tem didn’t work and that the four vent holes were prob­a­bly clogged up,” he added.

Au­thor­i­ties learned of the sit­u­a­tion when a Wal-Mart em­ployee called the San Antonio po­lice about mid­night Sun­day to re­port “mul­ti­ple peo­ple in need of as­sis­tance” and a sus­pi­cious truck in the park­ing lot, Lara said.

The truck was reg­is­tered to Pyle Trans­porta­tion Inc. of Schaller, Iowa. Com­pany Pres­i­dent Brian Pyle said that he had sold the truck to a man in Mex­ico, and that Bradley was an in­de­pen­dent con­trac­tor who was sup­posed to de­liver it to a pickup 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 loop­ing 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 trav­el­ing directly to Brownsville — to get the truck washed and de­tailed be­fore head­ing back 150 miles 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, Ky. “He helps peo­ple, he doesn’t hurt peo­ple.”

She said Bradley told her he had no idea how the im­mi­grants got into his trailer.

One of the pas­sen­gers told in­ves­ti­ga­tors that he was in a group of 24 peo­ple who had been in a “stash house” in Laredo for 11 days be­fore be­ing taken to the trac­tor-trailer.

Ch­est­ney sched­uled a pre­lim­i­nary hear­ing for Thurs­day to de­cide whether the govern­ment had prob­a­ble cause to pro­ceed with the case and whether Bradley should be granted bail.

In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was con­trib­uted by David Mont­gomery, Richard Perez-Pena, Manny Fer­nan­dez, Les Neuhaus and Susan Beachy of The New York

Times; and Nomaan Mer­chant, Claire Galo­faro, Ryan Fo­ley, Scott McFetridge, Mike Graczyk, El­liot Sp­a­gat, Peter Orsi and Frank Ba­jak of The As­so­ci­ated Press.

AP/ERIC GAY

James Mathew Bradley Jr. (cen­ter), 60, of Clear­wa­ter, Fla., is es­corted out of the fed­eral court­house af­ter a hear­ing Mon­day in San Antonio.

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