More Arrested in Horrific 'Death Trailer' Case

4 more arrested in deadliest migrant smuggling tragedy ever
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jul 21, 2022 12:00 AM CDT
Updated Jun 28, 2023 1:30 AM CDT
Men Indicted in Horrific 'Death Trailer' Case
Photos of Jair Valencia, left, Misael Olivares, center, and Yovani Valencia are displayed on an altar at their home in San Marcos Atexquilapan, Veracruz state, Mexico, on July 13, 2022.   (AP Photo/Felix Marquez, File)
UPDATE Jun 28, 2023 1:30 AM CDT

US authorities on Tuesday announced the arrests of four men they say were part of a human smuggling effort last year that ended in the deaths of 53 migrants, including eight children, who were left in a tractor-trailer in the scorching Texas summer. Authorities said on the anniversary of the June 27, 2022, tragedy that the four Mexican nationals had a planning role in the smuggling operation, and were aware that the trailer's air-conditioning unit was malfunctioning and would not blow cool air to migrants during the sweltering three-hour ride from the border city of Laredo to San Antonio, the AP reports. The driver and another man were arrested shortly after the migrants were found. They were charged with smuggling resulting in death and conspiracy. The men were all charged with conspiracy to transport immigrants resulting in death, serious bodily injury, and placing lives in jeopardy. Each faces a maximum penalty of life in prison if convicted.

Jul 21, 2022 12:00 AM CDT

Two men were indicted Wednesday in the case of a hot, airless tractor-trailer rig found last month with 53 dead or dying migrants in San Antonio, officials said. A federal grand jury in San Antonio indicted Homero Zamorano Jr., 46, and Christian Martinez, 28, both of Pasadena, Texas, on counts of transporting and conspiring to transport migrants illegally resulting in death; and transporting and conspiring to transport migrants illegally resulting in serious injury, the AP reports. Both remain in federal custody without bond pending trial. Conviction on the death counts could result in life sentences, but the Attorney General's Office could authorize prosecutors to seek death penalties. The serious bodily injury counts carry sentences of up to 20 years in prison.

It was the deadliest tragedy to claim the lives of migrants smuggled across the border from Mexico. The truck had been packed with 67 people, and the dead included 27 from Mexico, 14 from Honduras, seven from Guatemala and two from El Salvador, said Francisco Garduño, chief of Mexico's National Immigration Institute. The incident happened on a remote San Antonio back road on June 27. Arriving police officers detained Zamorano after spotting him hiding in some nearby brush, according to a statement from the US Attorney's Office. A search of Zamorano's cellphone revealed calls with Martinez concerning the smuggling run.

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Surveillance video of the 18-wheeler passing through a Border Patrol checkpoint showed the driver matched Zamorano's description, according to the indictment. One survivor of the journey, a 20-year-old from Guatemala, told the Associated Press that smugglers had covered the trailer's floor with what she believes was powdered chicken bouillon, apparently to throw off any dogs at the checkpoint. In 2017, 10 people died after being trapped inside a truck parked at a San Antonio Walmart. In 2003, the bodies of 19 migrants were found in a sweltering truck southeast of the city.

(More migrants stories.)

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