The driver of a sweltering 18 wheeler charged Monday with the horrific human trafficking operation in San Antonio that left 10 men dead said investigators he saw bodies in trailer “just lying on the floor like meat.” James Matthew Bradley Jr 60 years old of Clearwater, Fla, faces life in prison for one count of transporting illegal aliens. The immigrants in trailer with no working air conditioner, some of whom were from Mexico and Guatemala, desperately tried to breathe through a small hole in trailer as people began passing out in the South Texas heat, a criminal complaint charged. “The driver never stopped. People had a hole in trailer wall to provide some ventilation and they starting taking turns breathing from the hole” the complaint alleged, citing accounts from victims. Same day Bradley was presented in federal court, authorities clarified that 39 people were found in or near truck in a Walmart parking lot. 8 died inside the trailer, 2 others died at a hospital. At least 20 were suffering from severe dehydration and heat exposure because they were trapped in trailer with no working air conditioning. “All were victims of ruthless human smugglers indifferent to the well-being of their fragile cargo. The South Texas heat is punishing this time of year. These people were helpless in the hands of their transporters. Imagine their suffering, trapped in a stifling trailer in 100 plus degree heat” Richard Durbin Jr, the United States Attorney for the Western District of Texas, said. The complaint detailed events leading up to grim discovery in a Walmart parking lot Sunday evening. Immigrants told as many as 200 people had been in trailer. They had been smuggled across Rio Grande in different groups taken to different “stash houses” then loaded into the trailer. Bradley told investigators he was unaware of his human cargo and said he would been hired to deliver the trailer from Schaller, Iowa, to Brownsville, Texas.
One undocumented immigrant said to authorities a smuggler had said trailer was refrigerated and “not to worry about trip” that lasted around one day, but it did not take long before panic set in. “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 complaint says. Upon arriving at Walmart immigrants desperately ran into 6 black SUVs waiting to transport them elsewhere. The SUVs were quickly packed and took off, leaving others immigrants behind, according to a victim’s account. Bradley said to authorities he got out of the truck to urinate at the Walmart and heard “banging and shaking in the trailer. 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” the complaint said. The driver said to authorities he knew the refrigeration system was not working and that 4 vent holes in the trailer were probably clogged. Authorities discovered botched smuggling operation after a survivor asked a Walmart employee for water. Authorities then came upon people “standing and laying at and around the rear of the trailer,” according to complaint.
4 of survivors appeared to be between 10 and 17 years old, ICE acting Director Thomas Homan said. Many others were in their 20s and 30s. Truck had Iowa plates and was registered to Pyle Transportation Inc. of Schaller, Iowa. Calls to company were not returned. Immigrants who spoke to authorities had different accounts of how they made it across border. Some made it across Rio Grande by raft and then walked for a day. One told that he expected to pay $5,500 to smugglers in San Antonio. Another added that the trip cost $705. People from Latin America who rely on smuggling networks typically cross border on foot and are then picked up by a driver, Homan said. “Even though they have the driver in custody, I can guarantee you there’s going to be many more people we’re looking for to prosecute” Homan added.