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Truck Driver Charged With Human Smuggling After 10 Die In Stifling Conditions

James Mathew Bradley Jr., 60, (center) is escorted out of the federal court house following a hearing Monday in San Antonio. Bradley was arrested in connection with the deaths of 10 people packed into a broiling tractor-trailer.
Eric Gay

Federal prosecutors have charged a Florida man with "transporting illegal aliens" after at least 10 people died crammed into the back of a tractor-trailer in San Antonio. The truck, which had been parked in a Walmart parking lot in blistering heat, contained 39 people in total, all of whom were immigrants in the U.S. illegally.

James Matthew Bradley Jr., 60, "unlawfully transported aliens in violation of law, resulting in the death of ten of the aliens transported," the Department of Justice said in a statement. "The tenth alien, an adult male, died overnight at a hospital."

In Bradley's first court appearance Monday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Elizabeth Chestney said the crime could result in the death penalty, if Bradley is convicted.

In a statement included with the federal government's complaint, Homeland Security agent James Lara said Bradley had waived his Miranda Rights and already spoken with law enforcement. As Lara puts it, Bradley says his "boss" tasked him with delivering the trailer to a person in Brownsville, Texas — but did not give him an address or a time frame for delivery.

The statement continues:

"BRADLEY stated when he arrived at the Wal-Mart he exited the vehicle to urinate and he heard banging and shaking in 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. 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 said he knew the trailer refrigeration system didn't work and that the 4 vent holes were probably clogged up."

Prosecutors say Bradley did not call 911.

Lara says Homeland Security agents also spoke with a couple of the people found in the truck, who were hospitalized after their discovery. They described an arrangement with smugglers linked to a Mexican drug cartel, whereby a payment of several thousand dollars secured their passage in the tractor-trailer, which they had been assured had refrigeration.

Their accounts vary as to the total number of people inside the truck during the trip: anywhere from upwards of 70 to "approximately 180 to 200 people."

"During the first hour of transportation, everyone seemed to be ok," Lara says in his statement. "Later, people started having trouble breathing and some started to pass out. People began hitting the trailer walls and making noise to get the driver's attention. The driver never stopped. People had a hole in the trailer wall to provide some ventilation and they started taking turns breathing from the hole."

Authorities eventually discovered the truck parked in a Walmart parking lot after a call alerted them to a suspicious vehicle. Just past midnight Sunday morning, a San Antonio police officer found Bradley and the tractor-trailer — and the eight people dead inside.

Two more people would die later in the hospital.

The victims "were very hot to the touch," San Antonio Fire Chief Charles Hood said, according to The Associated Press. "So these people were in this trailer without any signs of any type of water."

The news service reports Chestney has scheduled another hearing on Thursday.

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Colin Dwyer covers breaking news for NPR. He reports on a wide array of subjects — from politics in Latin America and the Middle East, to the latest developments in sports and scientific research.
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