SAN ANTONIO — Two men were charged Wednesday in the case of a hot, airless tractor-trailer 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, with transportation and conspiracy to unlawfully transport migrants causing death; and transporting and conspiring to illegally transport migrants resulting in serious injury.
Both remain in federal custody without bond pending trial. Martinez’s attorney, David Shearer of San Antonio, declined to comment on the indictments. A message to Zamorano’s attorney was not immediately returned.
A death conviction could result in life sentences, but the attorney general’s office could allow prosecutors to seek the death penalty. Counts of grievous bodily harm carry penalties 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 filled with 67 people, and the dead included 27 from Mexico, 14 from Honduras, seven from Guatemala and two from El Salvador, said Francisco Garduño, head of Mexico’s National Immigration Institute.
The incident happened on a remote side road in San Antonio on June 27. Arriving police arrested Zamorano after spotting him hiding in nearby brush, according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office. A search of Zamorano’s cell phone revealed calls with Martinez regarding the contraband run.
Surveillance video of the 18-wheeler passing through a Border Patrol checkpoint showed the driver matched Zamorano’s description, according to the indictment. A survivor of the trip, a 20-year-old Guatemalan, told The Associated Press that smugglers covered the floor of the trailer with what she believes was powdered chicken broth, apparently to get rid of the dogs at the point. control.
The tragedy occurred at a time when large numbers of migrants were arriving in the United States, many of them taking perilous risks to cross fast-moving rivers and canals and scorching desert landscapes. Migrants were arrested nearly 240,000 times in May, up a third from a year ago.
Of the 73 people in the truck, those who died included people from the Mexican states of Guanajuato, Veracruz, Oaxaca, Mexico, Zacatecas, Queretaro, Morelos and Mexico City. Migrants from Honduras and Guatemala were also among those who died in the deadliest known smuggling attempt into the United States.
In 2017, 10 people died after being trapped in a truck parked at a Walmart in San Antonio. In 2003, the bodies of 19 migrants were found in a stuffy truck southeast of the city.