Without air conditioning in a tractor-trailer, 70 immigrants were left with one hole to breathe.
Ten people died and dozens more were hospitalized when they were crammed in a semi-truck before it stopped in San Antonio, Texas on Sunday. Federal authorities charged truck driver James Matthew Bradley Jr. with one count of transporting illegal aliens on Monday. The criminal complaint against Bradley details the conditions inside the truck, where as many as 200 people were said to have been at one time.
Bradley told police he stepped down from the cab of his tractor-trailer just after midnight for a bathroom break at Walmart and heard “banging and shaking” coming from inside.
When he opened the doors, “he was run over by ‘Spanish’ people and knocked to the ground,” he said, according to the complaint filed in the case.
“He then noticed bodies just lying on the floor like meat.”
Bradley told police he tried to administer aid, then went back into his truck to call his fiancé. He did not call 911, he told police.
Eight immigrants were found dead inside the trailer, and two more died at a hospital. Police said all of the victims were likely killed by heat exposure or asphyxiation. Nearly 20 other people remained in the hospital on Monday in critical condition. San Antonio Fire Chief Charles Hood told reporters on Sunday that at least two of those who were hospitalized were as young as 15 years old.
The inside of the tractor-trailer, which was not air-conditioned, could have reached up to 115 degrees in a half hour.
"With heat strokes or heat injuries, a lot of them are going to have some irreversible brain damage," Hood said.
One man who survived told authorities that the group screamed and banged on walls trying to “get someone’s attention.”
“Nobody ever came.”
Another survivor, 27-year-old Adan Lalravega, told The Associated Press from his hospital bed that people cried and pleaded for water. He said he heard children’s voices whimper.
Officials have not yet identified most of the victims who were killed in the case, but Guatemala’s foreign affairs ministry has said 20-year-old Guatemalan Frank Guisseppe Fuentes Gonzales was among the dead.
The San Antonio Express-News reports that at least two other Guatemalans, a 17-year-old and a 23-year-old, were among those being treated at local hospitals.
The driver told police he was just hauling a trailer from Schaller, Iowa to Brownsville, Texas, according to the complaint.
But the immigrants riding in Bradley’s trailer seem to tell a different story.
Some of them told agents they were bound for a final destination in San Antonio, but others said they were heading to the Midwest. One man, identified only as HLC, told officials that he was hidden in a “stash house” in Laredo with 23 others before getting in Bradley’s trailer.
There were already about 70 people inside when he got in, he said.
Another man, ALV, told authorities that there were already 180 to 200 people inside the trailer when he boarded it.
JMMJ allegedly told agents that he left his home in Aguascalientes, Mexico on Friday to be smuggled into the U.S. He told authorities that he paid “people linked to the Zetas” cartel 11,000 pesos for protection and another 1,500 pesos to cross a river by raft. Upon arrival in San Antonio, he’d agreed to pay smugglers $5,500.
Across the river, he said he was picked up in a pick-up truck and then taken to Bradley’s trailer. His group was the last to enter the cramped space with dozens of other people. A man allegedly told the group that the trailer had refrigeration and “not to worry” about the trip.
They were not given food or water, according to the complaint.
About an hour in, “people started having trouble breathing and some started to pass out.”
“The driver never stopped,” the man told police.
When Bradley finally stopped in San Antonio, JMMJ told police that he “braked hard” and that everyone fell on top of each other.
On the outside, six black SUVs allegedly waited to pick up those who were still alive.
“The SUVs were full in a matter of minutes and left right away,” he said. The survivors who couldn’t walk waited on a patch of grass in the parking lot until a Walmart employee called 911.
U.S. Attorney Richard Durbin called the case “an alien-smuggling venture gone horribly wrong.” San Antonio Police Chief William McManus told reporters it was being investigated as a “human-trafficking crime.”
Bradley’s fiancee, Darnisha Rose, told the AP that he called her from jail to say he hadn’t known that his truck was full of dying immigrants. She said, “He saw the people in there, laying everywhere. He said he didn’t know what to do, which way to go.”
If convicted, Bradley could face the death penalty or life in prison.