- 53 migrants killed in smuggling attempt at US border
- Suspected driver charged with human trafficking
- Driver stuck in his system, US lawmaker and official says
SAN ANTONIO, June 30 (Reuters) – A suspected driver of a truck carrying dozens of migrants died in the heat in a Texas smuggling attempt allegedly under the influence of methamphetamine when police caught him, a US congressman told Reuters, citing information from law enforcement.
San Antonio police officers found Homero Zamorano Jr, a native of Texas, hiding in the bushes near an abandoned trailer on Monday, according to documents filed in federal court Thursday. . Fifty-three migrants lost their lives, making it the deadliest human trafficking case recorded in the United States.
U.S. Representative Henry Cuellar, a Democrat whose county includes the eastern part of San Antonio, told Reuters on Thursday that Zamorano was found to have methamphetamine, a potent synthetic drug, in his system. .
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Cuellar said he was briefed by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) on the matter, but did not know how authorities made that decision. An unnamed CBP official told Reuters that Zamorano had methamphetamine in his system.
Reuters was unable to immediately confirm the accounts of the alleged drug use.
Zamorano, 45, appeared in federal court in San Antonio on Thursday, where human trafficking charges against him were read. If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of life in prison or the death penalty and a fine of up to $250,000, he was told.
He was accompanied by public defender Jose Gonzalez-Falla, who declined to comment on the incident. U.S. District Court Judge Elizabeth Chestney said Zamorano will remain in custody until the next hearing, on July 6.
Officials described finding the back door of the trailer open with the bodies stacked inside that was hot to the touch. In the nearby brush, officers discovered other victims, some dead. They discovered Zamorano hiding near the victims and escorted him to a local hospital for a medical evaluation, prosecutors said. Mexican officials said he managed to outdo himself as one of the survivors.
‘WHERE ARE YOU?’
The truck was carrying migrants from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador and was found in a desolate industrial area near a highway on the outskirts of the US-Mexico border.
Temperatures in the area that day rose as high as 103 Fahrenheit (39.4 degrees Celsius), and authorities calling the scene found no water supply or signs of air conditioning working inside the trailer. – cargo trailer.
Prosecutors accused Zamorano of co-conspiring with 28-year-old Christian Martinez, who is also charged with human trafficking. Martinez on Monday sent a photo of a truckload manifest to Zamorano, who responded by saying, “I’m at the same point,” a federal investigator wrote in a court filing. presented on Wednesday.
Martinez repeatedly texted Zamorano for hours afterward but received no reply, wrote Nestor Canales, an agent with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) investigations. Martinez sent messages that included “Call me brother” and “Wya brother,” which means “where are you,” Canales wrote.
A confidential informant to ICE and Texas police spoke to Martinez after the incident, Canales wrote. Martinez told the informant, “The driver was unaware that the air conditioning unit stopped working and was the reason why the individuals died,” Canales added.
Reuters could not be reached by Martinez for comment. Martinez, who is in official custody, made his first appearance in court in the Eastern District of Texas on Wednesday.
Mexicans accounted for about half of the deaths. Eleven people, including minors, remain hospitalized. In addition to the 27 Mexicans, the victims included 14 Hondurans, seven Guatemalans and two Salvadorans, the Mexican government said.
Among the dead were Pascual Melvin Guachiac, 13, and Juan Wilmer Tulul, 14, both from Guatemala, the country’s foreign ministry wrote on Twitter.
The two are cousins who left home two weeks ago to escape poverty, Guachiac’s mother was quoted by Guatemalan media as saying. read more
Among the victims was Yazmin Nayarith Bueso, who left Honduras nearly a month ago. Her brother said that she had spent a year without a job. Alejandro Bueso told a Honduran television program on Thursday: “She looked over and over and found nothing, and became desperate.
Officials believe the migrants boarded the truck on the US side of the border with Mexico.
Surveillance photos captured the truck passing through a border checkpoint in Laredo, Texas, at 2:50 p.m. CT (1950 GMT) on Monday, before the migrant passengers were believed to have boarded. plane.
Cuellar, the Texas lawmaker, said the migrants likely crossed the border and arrived at a “storage home” before being picked up by a trailer and passed through the Encinal checkpoint. They could then have traveled to San Antonio and had mechanical problems that kept them in the back of a truck without air conditioning or ventilation, Cuellar said.
Two other men suspected of being involved in the incident, Juan Claudio D’Luna-Mendez and Francisco D’Luna-Bilbao, Mexican nationals, were charged Tuesday in US federal court with criminal charges. possession of a gun while illegally residing in the country. A preliminary hearing for the couple will be held on Friday.
D’Luna-Mendez’s attorney, Michael McCrum, said his client is a 21-year-old carpenter who came to the US as a child and had “nothing to do with” the tragedy. McCrum said he believes the other man accused is his client’s father.
Toll documents in the case said the truck’s registration was tracked to the man’s address. “They’re arresting whoever they can,” McCrum said.
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Reporting by Jason Buch and Julio-Cesar Chavez in San Antonio, Ted Hesson in Washington; Additional reporting by Gustavo Palencia in Tegucigalpa; Written by Rami Ayyub; Editing by Mica Rosenberg, Aurora Ellis and Leslie Adler
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