Grand jurors in San Antonio, Texas, Wednesday indicted two alleged human traffickers suspected of causing the death of 53 illegal aliens they allegedly abandoned in a sweltering tractor trailer in June. Another 11 were hospitalized.
U.S. justice officials said Homero Zamorano Jr., 46, of Pasadena, Texas, and Christian Martinez, 28, of Palestine, Texas, were “charged in a federal indictment with one count of conspiracy to transport illegal aliens resulting in death; one count of transportation of illegal aliens resulting in death; one count of conspiracy to transport aliens resulting in serious bodily injury and placing lives in jeopardy; and one count of transportation of illegal aliens resulting in serious bodily injury and placing lives in jeopardy.”
Conspiracy to transport and transport resulting in death carry a maximum penalty of life in prison unless the attorney general decides the crime warrants seeking the death penalty. The Justice Department added that the defendants face up to 20 years in prison for the transporting resulting in serious bodily injury charges, if convicted.
San Antonio Police Department officers responding to 911 calls from concerned citizens who found a tractor trailer in southwest San Antonio with many people in and around it. “At the scene, SAPD officers discovered multiple individuals some still inside the tractor trailer, some on the ground and in nearby brush, many of them deceased and some of them incapacitated,” the Justice Department said in a statement.
The driver of the tractor trailer, later identified as Homero Zamorano, was pointed out to SAPD officers as he hid in nearby brush. Officers detained him after the driver tried to flee the scene.
SAPD informed Homeland Security Investigations agents who arrived at the scene they found 64 illegal aliens who tried to sneak into the country. Eleven of them were sent to an area hospital with injuries but the majority — 53 — died after travelling in the enclosed trailer without water or air conditioning, in heat that reached 100 degrees.
Zamorano’s phone was searched after a warrant was granted, and authorites found communications about the smuggling between the driver and Christian Martinez, whom they later arrested.
Laredo Sector Border Patrol provided HSI agents surveillance footage of the tractor trailer crossing through an immigration checkpoint, according to the Justice Department. The driver could be seen wearing a black shirt with stripes and a hat. HSI agents confirmed Zamorano matched the individual from the surveillance footage and was wearing the same clothing, the statement added.
Police put the address where the tractor trailer was registered under surveillance that led to the arrests of two other men. Mexican citizens Juan Claudio D’Luna-Mendez, 23, and Juan Francisco D’Luna-Bilbao, 48, were later indicted by a separate grand jury on one count each of possession of a firearm while illegally in the U.S., according to a San Antonio Current report.