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Truck Driver Is Charged in Deaths of 10 Migrants in Texas

They banged on the trailer’s walls, to get the driver’s attention, but the truck did not stop. The driver later told federal investigators what the immigrants may have soon discovered: that the trailer’s cooling system did not work and its four vent holes were probably clogged. But the immigrants found a small vent hole that was open, and took turns breathing through it to get some air.

The driver finally put the brakes on, and the immigrants were so weak that they fell over. The door opened again, this time in the parking lot of a San Antonio Walmart early Sunday, revealing a horrific scene of bodies upon bodies.

Ten people died along the journey or later at hospitals. Nearly 30 others were hospitalized.

The descriptions of the immigrants’ journey, as told to federal investigators, were revealed in a criminal complaint as the driver of the truck was arraigned in federal court Monday in San Antonio. The driver, James M. Bradley Jr., 60, of Clearwater, Fla., was charged under a federal law[1] 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.

Even as President Trump has made clear he will not tolerate illegal immigration, the tragedy illustrated the extremes people will go to to sneak into the United States and opened a window into human smuggling at the border, a clandestine world of drug cartels, rafts, “stash houses” and empty promises.

It quickly became a political issue in Texas. The Republican lieutenant governor, Dan Patrick, who has long denounced illegal immigration, took to social media to link the case with the state’s new and highly controversial law banning sanctuary cities — those that do not cooperate with immigration agencies.

“Sanctuary cities entice people to believe they can come to America and Texas and live outside the law,” Mr. Patrick wrote on his Facebook page on Sunday. “Sanctuary cities also enable human smugglers and cartels. Today, these people paid a terrible price and demonstrate why we need a secure border and legal immigration reform.”

State Representative Eddie Rodriguez, a Democrat, said Mr. Patrick’s comments went “too far.”

Mr. Rodriguez said in a statement that when “10 people from any background perish under such horrific circumstances, it is an occasion deserving of solemnity and respect, not self-indulgent cheerleading.”

Much was still unanswered Monday, including exactly how many people had been in the truck, and how they managed to get to San Antonio undetected, since it was likely that the driver passed through a Border Patrol traffic checkpoint at some point after leaving Laredo.

Survivors who were interviewed by investigators said they had been loaded into the trailer from various locations in or near Laredo. Many of the details in the criminal complaint came from an immigrant who was hospitalized and who was referred to by the initials J.M.M.-J.

He was from Aguascalientes, Mexico, and with a group of 28 others had crossed the Rio Grande by raft in three trips. In addition to $5,500 he would owe his smugglers when he got to his final destination in San Antonio, people with ties to the Mexican criminal organization known as the Zetas cartel were paid in pesos for protection and for the raft crossing.

The Mexican man and the others in his group then hiked through the South Texas brush until the next day, when they were picked up by a vehicle and driven to the trailer. Another immigrant described waiting in a stash house in Laredo for 11 days with 23 other people before being loaded into the trailer.

A third survivor, who was identified in the complaint by the initials H.L.-C. and was headed to Minnesota, told investigators that he and his brother crossed through in Laredo. “He stated he thought there were approximately 180 to 200 people in the tractor-trailer when he got in,” the complaint read.

By the time the police came to the truck Sunday morning, alerted by a Walmart employee, a number of immigrants had already fled, either in vehicles that picked them up before the police arrived, or on foot.

The bodies of the 10 dead, all adult men, have been taken to the Bexar County Medical Examiner’s Office, which is working with other agencies to determine their identities, a spokeswoman said. Officials with the Mexican Consulate are also assisting. The bodies will be returned to their families once their identities are established, a process involving fingerprint and DNA checks and other forensic tools that could take considerable time.

One was a Guatemalan man who had previously lived in the United States as a so-called Dreamer, one of the young immigrants protected from deportation by an Obama administration policy. But the man had lost his protection because of a conviction for larceny and aggravated assault, said Silvia Mintz, a lawyer working for the Guatemalan Consulate in Houston.

How the survivors’ immigration status will be handled in the coming weeks remained unclear. All were in custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Immigration lawyers said they should be regarded as crime victims, and as witnesses to a crime, which in some cases can protect them from deportation.

“We are exploring every avenue, and hopefully we can get them some immigration relief,” Ms. Mintz said.

On Monday morning, the driver, Mr. Bradley, made a brief appearance in Federal District Court, answering, “Yes, I do,” when Judge Betsy Chestney asked if he understood the maximum penalties. It was unclear whether prosecutors would seek the death penalty, which is infrequently used in federal court.

Mr. Bradley told federal authorities that he was unaware of his human cargo. According to court documents, Mr. Bradley said when he stopped at Walmart to urinate, he heard movement in the trailer and opened it.

He said he was knocked down by fleeing immigrants and said “he then noticed bodies just lying on the floor like meat,” according to the criminal complaint.

Mr. Bradley said he tried to administer aid, but he did not call 911.

Mr. Bradley’s remarks to investigators raised a host of questions, including why he ended up in San Antonio at all. He told investigators that his ultimate destination was Brownsville, where he was supposed to deliver the trailer to its new owner. Mr. Bradley told investigators, however, that he was not given a delivery address in Brownsville. In addition, if the truck was in Laredo and bound for Brownsville, San Antonio is in the opposite direction.

Court records from Colorado and Florida appear to show a criminal history for Mr. Bradley. Those records belong to a James Bradley with the middle initial B., rather than M., of the same age and general physical appearance.

In 1996, James B. Bradley was arrested by Aurora, Colo., police and charged with menacing with a deadly weapon and assault. He pleaded guilty in 1997 to a single felony charge and was sentenced to two years’ probation, but records show that the probation was revoked multiple times, returning him to jail. In 2004, he was arrested in Tampa, Fla., while driving a car that had been reported stolen, and charged with grand theft auto. State records do not make clear how the case was resolved.

Mr. Bradley’s nephew, Alton C. Bradley, 50, said he was shocked by the news of his uncle’s arrest.

“When I was talking with my aunts and sister, we couldn’t believe it was him pulling those immigrants behind in that trailer,” he said by telephone from Land O’ Lakes, Fla., adding that his uncle was always hauling produce, meat, seafood and more all over the country.

“Just regular stuff that you haul from state to state, but nothing that was ever illegal,” he said. “So that’s why this is pretty shocking.”

Correction: July 24, 2017

An earlier version of this article gave an incorrect description for the sentence for Tyrone Williams, a truck driver who was convicted in the deaths of 19 people in 2003. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole, but in 2010, a federal appellate court overturned his 19 life sentences. He was resentenced to 34 years in prison.

Continue reading the main story[5]

References

  1. ^ a federal law (www.justice.gov)
  2. ^ Continue reading the main story (www.nytimes.com)
  3. ^ Continue reading the main story (www.nytimes.com)
  4. ^ Continue reading the main story (www.nytimes.com)
  5. ^ Continue reading the main story (www.nytimes.com)
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After deadly smuggling case, officials charge truck driver and decry ‘crime against humanity’

(Monica Akhtar/The Washington Post)

SAN ANTONIO — The people packed into the sweltering tractor-trailer needed air. They banged on the walls for help, but the vehicle kept going. Trapped with as many as 200 people in the pitch-black trailer, they took turns breathing through a hole in the side. Some just passed out.

They had been tagged with colored tape, allowing the smugglers to more easily sort them at the journey’s end — who would be handed off to which awaiting vehicle.

The detailed account was laid out in a federal court filing Monday, coming from men who chronicled their harrowing journeys to a Walmart parking lot in San Antonio. Some had traveled hundreds of miles from central Mexico.

Prosecutors charged the truck’s driver — James Matthew Bradley Jr., 60 — with smuggling immigrants for financial gain resulting in death, a charge that could carry the death penalty because it resulted in people dying while in transit.

At least eight migrants perished inside the trailer; two others died later. Dozens of others remain in seven area hospitals, some with critical injuries. All of the dead or injured were undocumented, federal authorities said.

It’s unknown what happened to the scores of others who the migrants told investigators had been in the trailer with them.

Before the truck was found in the Walmart parking lot here in Texas’s second-biggest city, some travelers had spent days held in a house near the border with Mexico. Some were told to pay a group linked to a deadly Mexican drug cartel thousands of dollars for safe passage across the Rio Grande. Bradley told authorities he was unaware of the trailer’s cargo and was surprised when he realized people had been trapped inside.

The truck’s discovery revealed the group’s horrifying journey to the United States at a time when immigration arrests have spiked under President Trump and illegal border crossings have plummeted, according to federal officials. The case also highlighted the extreme dangers people face as they try to enter the country.

[Read the federal criminal complaint[1]]

“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 U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said in a statement Monday. “Human smugglers have repeatedly demonstrated that they have absolutely no regard for human life. Our ICE agents and officers, working closely with our law enforcement partners, will pursue these smugglers and bring them to justice.”


San Antonio police officers investigate the scene where eight people were found dead in a tractor-trailer loaded with immigrants outside a Walmart store in stifling summer heat in what police are calling a horrific human trafficking case. (Eric Gay/AP)

At the Mexican consulate in San Antonio on Monday, workers fielded calls from the migrants’ relatives, who reached out from across the United States, including Colorado and Ohio, as well as Mexico.

[Truck driver charged in deadly smuggling case after people found ‘lying on the floor like meat’[2]]

Consul General Reyna Torres said she and the consulates of El Salvador and Guatemala met with Homeland Security authorities Monday morning. Federal officials were still struggling to identify some of the dead and injured, Torres said, adding that she has not been notified that anyone from the truck has been formally detained or arrested.

Certain visas[3] allow victims of some crimes to remain in the United States if they can help authorities investigate or prosecute crimes. The Department of Homeland Security declined to say whether the people in the trailer would be allowed to remain in the United States or sent back to their countries of origin.

Jack Staton, acting assistant director of intelligence for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations, told reporters in a call Monday afternoon that he would not discuss specifics of the case.

He called human smuggling “100 percent [a] crime against humanity,” adding that, “this is just victimizing people that are attempting to get a better life.”


James Mathew Bradley Jr., left, arrives at the federal courthouse for a hearing Monday in San Antonio. Bradley was arrested in connection with the deaths of multiple people packed into a hot tractor-trailer. (Eric Gay/AP)

One man, who was not identified, told investigators he began his journey in Aguascalientes, Mexico, and was to pay smugglers $5,500 when he arrived in San Antonio, according to his account, written by James Lara, a special agent with Homeland Security’s investigations.

In Nuevo Laredo, a Mexican city on the Texas border, the man said he waited with a group of 28 people before a smuggler told him that people linked to the Zetas — a violent drug cartel — were charging 12,500 pesos (more than $700 dollars) to bring people across the Rio Grande in rafts.

The Zetas drug cartel has long been involved in trafficking immigrants across the U.S.-Mexico border, with migrants from Central America saying smugglers have to pay off corrupt police and drug cartels alike while traveling through Mexico. The cartel has been known to exert particular influence in the northern Mexican border states, operating safe houses where large groups of migrants are stashed before being ferried across the Rio Grande.

The man from Aguascalientes said that after his group crossed the river, they walked for a while and were brought to the tractor-trailer, where they joined dozens of others inside. It was morning, he said, and they were told their journey would begin later that evening.

Another man told federal agents that he was among two dozen people who had been held in a “stash house” in Laredo, Tex., for 11 days before arriving at the trailer, which he said was already crowded and sweltering when he arrived, Lara wrote.

“The smugglers closed the doors and the interior of the trailer was pitch black and it was already hot inside,” Lara wrote in the complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas. “He stated they were not provided with any water or food. People inside were making noise to get someone’s attention but nobody ever came.”

It was not until that night that the doors reopened and people inside were told it was time to go, Lara said.

Authorities have focused their investigation on Bradley, the tractor-trailer’s driver. Bradley owned the truck found outside Walmart early Sunday, but not the trailer, according to public records. He told federal agents that the trailer’s refrigeration system did not work and the vent holes were likely clogged up, according to the complaint.

Bradley bought the truck — a 1999 Peterbilt model that had been completely refurbished and given a new paint job — in March for $90,000, said Justin McDaniel of Outlaw Iron in West Bend, Wis., who sold him the truck. McDaniel recalled Bradley as friendly and “your typical Southern guy.”

“That’s why the accusations being made now caught me by surprise,” McDaniel said. “It’s very disturbing.”

Bradley took out a pair of loans earlier this year to buy trucks for which he needed to make payments of almost $2,000 a month, according to records.

Alton Bradley, the driver’s nephew, said the man nicknamed “Bear” is a lifelong trucker with a passion for the work. When he heard the news, Alton Bradley, who lives in Florida, said he called his aunt — the driver’s sister — and she responded, “I’m just sick and I can’t believe it.”

In an interview Sunday, Brian Pyle, president of Pyle Transportation, the Iowa-based hauling firm with which Bradley was affiliated, said the driver was operating independently of the company. Pyle said he did not know what Bradley was transporting and said it was the driver’s “very first trip.”

He declined to characterize his relationship with Bradley or say how long they have known each other. When asked how long Bradley had worked for his company, Pyle hung up the phone.

On Facebook, where Bradley’s profile photo shows him wearing a Pyle Transportation T-shirt, Bradley is friends with Brian Pyle, at least one other Pyle family member and other Pyle truck drivers.

The truck had not been outside the store long: Surveillance video showed that it was parked outside Walmart for just 30 minutes before one of the store workers encountered someone from the trailer asking for water, a company spokesman said.

It remains unclear whether the operation discovered Sunday was related to the driver or the company, which has 18 trucks and 15 drivers, according to federal records.

Bradley has said he was unaware there were people inside the trailer, which was emblazoned with the Pyle decal.

In the complaint, Lara wrote that Bradley had told agents he was traveling from Iowa to Brownsville, Tex., to deliver the trailer. Bradley said his boss had sold the trailer and asked him to deliver it, and he was not told a delivery address or a desired time frame, Lara said.

During his initial court appearance Monday, Bradley arrived with his arms shackled and was ordered held until a bond hearing scheduled for July 27.


Shoppers pass a group visiting a makeshift memorial in the parking lot of a Walmart store near the site where authorities Sunday discovered a tractor-trailer packed with immigrants. (Eric Gay/AP)

When the trailer eventually stopped at Walmart, one of the migrants told investigators that people inside the trailer were so weak that they toppled over. Bradley told Lara he got out to go to the bathroom and heard banging and shaking from the trailer.

“Bradley said he went to open the doors and was surprised when he was run over by ‘Spanish’ people and knocked to the ground,” Lara wrote. “Bradley said he then noticed bodies just lying on the floor like meat. Bradley said he knew at least one of them was dead.”

Bradley told agents that he called his wife, who did not answer, and did not call 911. The complaint does not elaborate on why he did not call police.

Between 30 and 40 people scrambled out of the trailer after the doors were opened, Bradley said.

Bradley and one of those inside the truck offered different accounts of what happened next. The driver told federal agents no one else was there when he parked and no vehicles were there to pick up anyone. The man from Aguascalientes said that once the vehicle stopped and people flooded out of the trailer, six black SUVs were on hand to pick them up and filled up in minutes before quickly leaving.

Berman and Bever reported from Washington. Alice Crites, Abigail Hauslohner, Julie Tate and Todd Frankel in Washington; Josh Partlow in Mexico City; and Jon Silman in Land O’ Lakes, Fla., contributed to this report.

References

  1. ^ apps.washingtonpost.com (apps.washingtonpost.com)
  2. ^ www.washingtonpost.com (www.washingtonpost.com)
  3. ^ Certain visas (www.uscis.gov)
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Founder of Len’s Transportation loses battle with cancer

SURREY, B.C. – Leonard Kane Sr., founder of Len’s Transportation Group, passed away July 16 after losing his battle against cancer. He was 84 years old.

A celebration of Kane’s life will be held July 29 at 5 p.m. at the Sandman Signature Hotel in Langley, B.C., and a heavy truck convoy carrying his ashes will depart that day at 3 p.m. from the yard of Ranger Transport, part of Len’s Transportation. The convoy will include Surrey and Langley RCMP and will travel along 96 Ave., 216 St., 88 Ave., and 208 St.

Born in New Westminster, B.C., Kane founded Len’s Lift Truck Delivery in 1964 and acquired Ranger Transport in 1978. The company is now run by his son, Leonard Kane Jr., and was featured in Truck West magazine’s Last Word profile this past June.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in Kane Sr.’s memory to the B.C. Cancer Foundation or Inspire Health.