A federal grand jury in San Antonio indicted a truck driver for his alleged role in the smuggling deaths of 10 undocumented immigrants found in the trailer of a truck in a Walmart parking lot in July, officials said Wednesday.
James Matthew Bradley Jr., 60, received five felony counts, including smuggling migrants for financial gain resulting in death — a charge that could carry the death penalty. Other charges range from 10 to 20 years in federal prison, the Justice Department said in a release.
Seven Mexicans and one Guatemalan were found dead in the trailer in San Antonio under stiflingly hot summer conditions, with as many as 200 people tightly packed and struggling to breathe through small holes. Two migrants later died in a hospital.
Currently, two remain hospitalized, five were released to immigration authorities, and 22 are being held as material witnesses, according to the Justice Department.
Some of the travelers had spent days held in a house near the border with Mexico. Some were told to pay hundreds of dollars to a group linked to Los Zetas, a deadly Mexican drug cartel, for safe passage across the Rio Grande in rafts, The Washington Post reported.
Bradley initially told authorities he was unaware of the trailer’s cargo and was surprised when he realized people had been trapped inside. He owned the truck found outside Walmart but not the trailer, according to public records. He told federal agents that the trailer’s refrigeration system did not work and that the vent holes were probably clogged, according to the criminal complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas.
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.
Jack Staton, acting assistant director of intelligence for Immigration and Custom Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations arm, called human smuggling “100 percent crime against humanity,” adding that “this is just victimizing people that are attempting to get a better life.”
“The smugglers closed the doors and the interior of the trailer was pitch black and it was already hot inside,” James Lara, a special agent with Homeland Security Investigations wrote in the complaint after interviewing one of the migrants.
“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.”