James Matthew Bradley Jr., 60, could face the death penalty for transporting ten immigrants who died while riding in the overheated tractor-trailer without food or water. He was charged under a federal law banning the transportation of people in the country illegally, which authorizes the death penalty or uncapped prison term when the crime results in death.
The complaint alleges Bradley used the immigrants for “commercial advantage or private financial gain,” transporting as many as 200 at one time. The truck was discovered Saturday evening in a San Antonio Walmart parking lot. Eight men were dead inside and two others died after being transported to a nearby hospital. Nearly 30 others who Bradley was transporting were hospitalized for dehydration and heat exhaustion.
Evidently, the immigrants were smuggled into the states and transferred into the truck after being reassured it had a refrigeration system to keep them cool. Some had reached the area by raft and owed smugglers thousands for helping them. Once in the truck, they soon discovered its cooling system did not work after all and its four vent holes were probably clogged. The immigrants found a small vent hole and took turns breathing through it to get some air. They banged on the trailer’s walls, to get Bradley’s attention, but the truck did not stop.
The Clearwater, Florida, man told authorities he was not aware of the immigrants and was delivering the truck to a new owner. He heard banging after parking at the Walmart and was shocked when he opened the doors to check it out. However, tales of the immigrants’ journey were told to federal investigators and uncovered in a criminal complaint as Bradley was arraigned in federal court on Monday in San Antonio. One immigrant, in particular, shared that in addition to $5,500 he would have to pay the smugglers when he reached San Antonio, people with ties to the Zetas cartel, a Mexican criminal organization, were paid in pesos for protection and for the raft crossing. By the time a Walmart employee had notified police Sunday morning many of the immigrants had already fled, either in vehicles or on foot.
“Sanctuary cities entice people to believe they can come to America and Texas and live outside the law,” The Republican lieutenant governor, Dan Patrick wrote on his Facebook page on Sunday. “Sanctuary cities also enable human smugglers and cartels. Today, these people paid a terrible price and demonstrate why we need a secure border and legal immigration reform.” His comments were ridiculed by Democratic State Representative Eddie Rodriguez, who said in a statement that when “10 people from any background perish under such horrific circumstances, it is an occasion deserving of solemnity and respect, not self-indulgent cheerleading.”
The bodies of the ten dead men have been taken to the Bexar County Medical Examiner’s Office so their identities can be determined. Once confirmed, the bodies will be returned to their families. The process could take considerable time. All known survivors were taken into the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. However, immigration attorneys feel they should be treated as crime victims and witnesses, and as such, they may be saved from deportation.