SAN ANTONIO - The driver of the 18-wheeler in the human smuggling tragedy was charged in federal court on Monday.
James Matthew Bradley, Jr. was charged with one count of transporting illegal aliens.
A federal complaint filed Monday morning alleged that Bradley unlawfully transported undocumented immigrants in violation of law, resulting in the death of ten of the people transported.
Upon conviction, the offense is punishable by life imprisonment or death, a $250,000 fine, and three years of supervised release, according to the U.S. Attorney Richard L. Durbin, Jr.
Early Sunday morning, San Antonio Police responded to a call at a southwest-side Walmart. An officer encountered a tractor-trailer behind the store, finding a number of people standing and lying in the rear of the trailer, and the driver, Bradley, in the cab.
Bradley said he was transporting the trailer from Schaller, Iowa, to Brownsville, Texas, according to an affidavit filed by Homeland Security Investigation Special Agent James Lara. Bradley denied knowing there were people in the trailer and discovered them only when he exited the vehicle to relieve himself. He said he attempted to administer aid to them.
At the time of discovery, SAPD reported they found eight deceased and 38 undocumented immigrants with various degrees of injuries. Officers found a thirty-ninth person in the woods afterward.
Bradley was taken into custody and during questioning, he said he was traveling from Laredo to San Antonio after having the tractor-trailer washed and detailed at a truck stop near Laredo, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Bradley said he intended to take the trailer to Brownsville to deliver it to someone who had purchased it.
NEW: Truck driver James Bradley Jr. arrives @ courthouse in San Antonio. Arrested in connection w/ deadly human smuggling case pic.twitter.com/5TuKHGKc10— Marcus Moore (@MarcusMoorewfaa) July 24, 2017
Bradley told investigators he stopped at the Walmart and heard banging and shaking in the trailer. He was surprised when “he was run over by ‘Spanish’ people and knocked to the ground,” according to the affidavit. He realized that at least one person was dead and said he knew the trailer refrigeration system did not work and that the four vent holes probably were clogged. Bradley told officials he called his wife, but he did not call 911.
He said about 30 to 40 people ran from the trailer, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Trucker claims he's clueless: "he was surprised when he was 'run over by Spanish people' and knocked to the ground." pic.twitter.com/lZEnRNXK27— SueKENS5 (@SueKENS5) July 24, 2017
Several of the undocumented immigrants taken from the trailer and interviewed by HSI Special Agents described how they had been smuggled across the Rio Grande River near Laredo at different times and as part of different groups. They were harbored in one or more stash locations, and on Sunday, the groups were assembled in the trailer.
One person said his group of 24 had been in a “stash house” in Laredo for 11 days before being loaded into the trailer, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. They estimated the trailer contained between 70 and 180 to 200 people during transport. They described differing fees for being transported.
US Atty: People took turns breathing fresh air from a small hole in the sealed, dark trailer. #kens5eyewitness— SueKENS5 (@SueKENS5) July 24, 2017
"To maximize their criminal profits, these human smugglers crammed more than 100 people into a tractor trailer in the stifling Texas summer heat resulting in ten dead and 29 others hospitalized," said Acting ICE Director Thomas Homan. "Human smugglers have repeatedly demonstrated that they have absolutely no regard for human life. Our ICE agents and officers, working closely with our law enforcement partners, will pursue these smugglers and bring them to justice."
The department of Homeland Security is leading this investigation. Assistant United States Attorney Christina Playton is prosecuting this case on behalf of the Government.