Tagged: trailer

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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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Migrants trapped in sweltering truck in Texas were ‘lying on the floor like meat,’ driver says

By the time they climbed up into the pitch-black truck, they had already crossed the Rio Grande on rafts and walked all night through wild brush land.

The air was hot inside the 18-wheeler, and there was no food or water.

But just before they set off, according to an account of the fatal journey filed Monday in federal court, a man opened the door. He reassured the scores of migrants huddled inside that the vehicle had refrigeration.

Don’t worry about the journey, he said.

A few hours later, the truck driver told a federal agent, he opened the door to find “bodies just lying on the floor like meat.”

James Matthew Bradley Jr., 60, of Clearwater, Fla., could face the death penalty for his role in the deaths of 10 migrants who perished after they were crammed into the hot tractor-trailer.

In a federal complaint filed Monday, Bradley was charged under federal law with one count of “transporting illegal aliens,” a crime punishable by life imprisonment or death if the crime results in a death.

Thirty-nine people were discovered in and around the truck early Sunday after a disoriented man approached an employee for water in a Wal-Mart parking lot just off Interstate 35, about 150 miles from the U.S.-Mexico border

Eight men were pronounced dead at the scene Sunday morning and are believed to have suffered from heat exposure and asphyxiation.

Among the dead was a so-called Dreamer, a migrant who had been brought to the United States as a young child. Frank Guisseppe Fuentes, 20, spent much of his life in the U.S. and had crossed the border in an attempt to reunite with family members living in Maryland after he was deported to Guatemala City, Jose Barillas, the Guatemalan consul general in Houston, told Univision.

Barillas said Fuentes had been a beneficiary of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a program created by former President Obama that grants work permits and temporary protection from deportation to those whose parents brought them to the U.S. as children. Fuentes had lost his protected status after committing crimes, Barillas said. He did not say what those crimes were.

“He was trying to get back,” Barillas said.

Seventeen of the vehicle’s occupants were rushed to hospitals with serious or critical injuries. An additional 13 had non-life-threatening injuries. Two men have since died at hospitals, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.

“These human smugglers crammed more than 100 people into a tractor trailer in the stifling Texas summer heat,” 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.”

During the journey, one of the men trapped in the sweltering truck made a desperate call home.

“There’s no oxygen,” Mario Alberto Ramirez Mendes, 23, told his family members in Calvillo, a small city in central Mexico known as the country’s top producer of guavas.

“We can’t breathe,” he said.

Ramirez left home two weeks ago with his 18-year-old nephew, Jhonny Serna Ramirez, and two others who hoped to cross into the U.S.

The group waited for about a week at a hotel on the border before smugglers helped them cross the Rio Grande, according to Mario Ramirez, Jhonny’s 17-year-old brother.

In interviews with Homeland Security agents Sunday, some of the truck’s passengers said they had paid “protection” money to the Mexican criminal cartel Zetas to cross the border. They estimated that as many as 70 to 200 people may initially have been crammed on board.

A San Antonio police officer found multiple people around the rear of the trailer, according to an affidavit filed by Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent James Lara.

When the officer shone a light into the cab of the trailer, Bradley emerged from the cab’s rear camper, the agent reported. He told the officer that he was driving the trailer from Schaller, Iowa, to Brownsville, Texas, and that he was unaware of the trailer’s cargo.

Bradley said he heard movement in his truck only when he exited the vehicle for a bathroom break, according to the affidavit. After opening the door at the back of the trailer, he said, he attempted to administer aid.

During further questioning by Homeland Security Investigations agents, Bradley said he was traveling from Laredo, Texas, to deliver the truck to someone who had purchased it. As he exited the vehicle, the affidavit said, he heard “banging and shaking” in the trailer. When he opened the door, he said, he was surprised when “he was run over by ‘Spanish’ people and knocked to the ground.”

About 30 to 40 people ran from the trailer, Lara wrote in the affidavit. Immediately, Bradley told him, he realized at least one person was dead. He said that he knew the trailer refrigeration system did not work and that the four main vent holes were likely clogged.

He called his wife but did not call 911, he told agents.

Several of the immigrants taken from the trailer told agents they had been smuggled across the river near Laredo in different groups and then held at various stash houses.

One immigrant, a Mexican citizen from Aguascalientes state, told agents he had traveled via Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, and had arranged to pay smugglers $5,500 when he arrived in San Antonio.

After waiting with 28 people until 8 p.m. Friday to be smuggled across the river, smugglers told him that people associated with the Zetas would charge about $700 for protection and to cross by raft. The group crossed the river in three trips and then walked throughout the night.

About 9 a.m., his group was picked up by a silver Chevrolet Silverado truck and taken to the trailer. About 70 people were already inside, he estimated.

Everything was OK for the first hour. But then some passengers started having difficulty breathing and began to pass out, agents learned from their interviews.

People began hitting the trailer walls in an effort to get the driver’s attention.

One by one, people started taking turns breathing from a ventilation hole in a wall.

At the end of their journey, when they finally pulled in to the Wal-Mart parking lot, the driver slammed the brakes abruptly, causing many passengers to fall over. The rear doors were opened and, as the driver described it, people started to “swarm out.”

Six black SUVs were waiting to pick up people. They left as soon as they filled with passengers.

The Mexican consul general in San Antonio confirmed that a number of Mexicans were among the dead and the survivors. Two Guatemalans survived and are in stable condition.

After receiving a panicked call from Ramirez late Saturday night, family members began frantically dialing the phone number of one of the smugglers in hopes that he could communicate with the driver of the truck, Mario Ramirez said.

Their efforts were fruitless. The next day, the family found out that Ramirez was OK. But Serna, his nephew, is gravely ill.

Serna, who is being treated at a hospital in San Antonio, is still unconscious, his brother said, and has suffered serious kidney damage caused by severe dehydration. His parents are traveling to the U.S. on Monday on humanitarian visas to be with him.

“He is strong,” his brother said in an interview Monday. “But we feel desperate.”

Serna left for the U.S. because he was unable to find well-paying work after leaving school, his brother said.

“He only went to fulfill his American dream,” Ramirez said.

Adan Valdivia Lopez, mayor of Calvillo, said that at least four residents of his city were on the tractor-trailer.

“There is not a single family here that does not have a relative in the United States,” Valdivia Lopez said by phone.

The parents of those who survived the incident, he said, are worried about what U.S. immigration authorities may do to them.

“The parents were very concerned primarily about the health of their children, but also about the treatment they will be given if they are deported,” he said.

Smuggling migrants in tractor-trailers is a relatively common practice along the Southwest border.

In May 2003, 19 people died of dehydration, hyperthermia, suffocation and mechanical asphyxia after they were abandoned in a trailer truck at a truck stop in Victoria, Texas. The driver in that case, Tyrone Mapletoft Williams, was convicted and is serving a sentence of nearly 34 years in prison.

In Williams’ case, the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 2010 that simply leaving migrants inside the truck was not punishable by death. “Williams’ conduct during the smuggling trip, despicable as it was, fell short of the statutory minimum to subject Williams to the possibility of a death sentence,” the court ruled.

Jarvie reported from Atlanta and Linthicum reported from Mexico City. Times staff writer Matt Pearce in Los Angeles and special correspondent Cecilia Sanchez in Mexico City contributed to this story.

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UPDATES:

5:46 p.m.: The article was updated with additional details from a federal law enforcement affidavit and interviews with relatives of the migrants.

12:05 a.m.: The article was updated throughout with Times staff reporting.

This article was originally published at 9:35 a.m.

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Truck Driver Could Face Death Penalty In Deadly Human Smuggling Case

DALLAS (CBS11) – A truck driver faces life in prison or even the death penalty after being accused of transporting people in the U.S. illegally in a sweltering semi-trailer with no air-conditioning.[1]

Ten people died, and nearly 30 are hospitalized, after a Walmart employee in San Antonio spotted the truck and a victim early Sunday morning and called 911.

Bill Bernstein, Deputy Director of Mosaic Family Services in Dallas, says even though what happened in San Antonio may be rare, the problem is all too common.

“It’s a horrible situation to happen and you wish things like that didn’t happen,” said Bernstein.

Bernstein says the victims opt to come into the country by being smuggled in through some form of transportation. “They leave because they’re real desperate and they’re willing to face conditions that are so intolerable that they know they’re putting their lives on the line to get there.”

Authorities say the driver, 60-year-old James Bradley, told them he didn’t know there were dozens of people in the trailer before discovering them.

Bradley faced a federal judge in San Antonio for the first time on Monday.

Investigators say some of those who escaped from the truck told them they crossed the border, then hid in stash houses in Laredo until they were brought into the trailer.

Experts say they believe this is part of a smuggling network.

This fiscal year, Homeland Security Investigations, which is part of ICE, says it initiated 2,110 human smuggling investigations nationwide and had 1,522 convictions nationwide.

The Associate Director of the Embrey Human Rights Program at SMU, Brad Klein says the Lone Star State sees many cases. “Texas and Dallas in particular, is a huge hub for both trafficking and smuggling. Part of it is location and part of it is the economy.”

Klein says smuggling can turn into another crime: human trafficking, when the victims are coerced or threatened. “Someone who may think they’re getting into a situation of simply being moved from one place to another may end up being trafficked.”

A study by the University of Texas released in January found there could be as many as 300,000 victims of human trafficking in this state alone.

Bernstein says Mosaic Family Services has helped more than 500 human trafficking victims in the past 16 years. “What they end up doing is they may be working 16 hours a day, not really being paid, fed, sleeping on the floor in a closet, it may involve sex work, it may involve any kind of labor.”

Klein says SMU will be hosting a two-day workshop on Human Trafficking September 13 and 14 to not only further shed light on the problem, but help find solutions as well.