Nine illegal immigrants have been found ‘baked alive’ after being crammed into a tractor trailer parked outside a Walmart in San Antonio, TX.
The sweltering midsummer Texas heat was what caused the death of the 9 people.
Authorities have called this incident an immigrant-smuggling attempt gone wrong.
Nearly 20 other illegals were rescued from the rig and hospitalized due to dehydration and heatstroke, officials said.
The driver was arrested and San Antonio Police Chief William McManus said, “we’re looking at a human-trafficking crime,” also calling it “a horrific tragedy.”
One U.S. official said Sunday evening that 17 of those rescued were being treated for injuries that were considered life-threatening. The official spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the information has not been publicly released.
Authorities were called to the San Antonio parking lot late Saturday or early Sunday and found eight people dead inside the truck. A ninth victim died at the hospital, said Liz Johnson, spokeswoman 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,” San Antonio Fire Chief Charles Hood said.
Officials are keeping tight lipped as to whether the truck was locked when they arrived, but they did let reporters know there was 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 U.S., 19 immigrants locked inside a stifling rig died in Victoria, Texas, in 2003.
Based on initial interviews with survivors of the San Antonio 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. Officials said 39 people were inside when rescuers arrived, and the rest were believed to have escaped or hitched rides to their next destination.
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 is in custody, I can guarantee you there’s going to be many more people we’re looking for to prosecute,” Homan said.
James Mathew Bradley Jr. — 60, of Clearwater, Florida — was taken into custody to be charged on Monday, said federal prosecutors. However, the local U.S. Attorney’s Office wouldn’t disclose if Bradley was the driver of the truck who was arrested.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott released a statement regarding the incident:
“The loss of these lives is a heartbreaking tragedy,” said Abbott. “Human trafficking is an epidemic that Texas is working to eradicate. To that end, Texas will continue to provide protection for the victims who have been robbed of their most basic rights, and bring down the full weight of the law for the perpetrators of this despicable crime.”
In the May 2003 case, the immigrants were being taken from South Texas to Houston. Prosecutors said the driver heard them begging and screaming for their lives but refused to free them. The driver was sentenced to nearly 34 years in prison.
“It’s sad that 14 years later people are still being smuggled in tractor-trailers, there still isn’t water, there still isn’t ventilation,” Homan said. “These criminal organizations, they’re all about making money. They have no regard for human life.”