SAN ANTONIO (CN) – Federal prosecutors charged a Florida man on Monday with human smuggling resulting in the deaths of 10 immigrants who were found trapped inside a sweltering tractor-trailer in a San Antonio Walmart parking lot over the weekend.
James Matthew Bradley Jr., 60, made his initial court appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge Elizabeth S. Chestney in San Antonio on Monday morning.
Bradley, who denied any knowledge of the fatal human smuggling attempt, faces the death penalty or life in prison if convicted. A criminal complaint filed in the Western District of Texas charges Bradley, of Clearwater, Fla., with illegally transporting immigrants, resulting in the deaths of 10.
Eight male immigrants were found dead inside the scorching hot enclosed tractor-trailer that Bradley drove from Laredo to San Antonio early Sunday morning. Thirty-nine more were injured and transported to local hospitals.
By Monday morning, two of those immigrants died and the others were in critical condition. The heat inside the tractor-trailer exceeded 100 degrees.
“The South Texas heat is punishing this time of year,” U.S. Attorney Richard L. Durbin Jr. said in a statement. “These people were helpless in the hands of their transporters.”
Bradley told police that he was unaware of the contents of his haul until he heard “banging and shaking in the trailer” after exiting the vehicle to urinate, according to a four-page criminal complaint filed Monday.
“Bradley said 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 states.
He admitted to knowing that the trailer’s refrigeration system didn’t work and that the four vent holes were probably clogged up. Bradley called his wife, who did not answer, but he did not call 911, prosecutors say.
He told authorities that approximately 30 to 40 people fanned out of the trailer after he opened the doors. They ran through the Walmart parking lot and toward a grassy area, Bradley reportedly said.
According to the complaint, Bradley claimed there were no vehicles in the area to pick up the passengers, but an immigrant interviewed in the hospital by Homeland Security special agents says six black SUVs were waiting to pick up people.
He and another immigrant interviewed by federal agents in the hospital said that the tractor-trailer was hot as soon as they got inside to be taken to San Antonio. One of them said that after an hour of everything seeming to be fine, people began passing out and hitting the trailer walls to get the driver’s attention, to no avail.
Some of the immigrants took turns breathing through a hole in the trailer wall, according to the complaint. Another one said he thought there were approximately 180 to 200 people in the tractor-trailer at one point.
Thomas Homan, acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said human smugglers crammed more than 100 people into the tractor-trailer in the stifling Texas summer heat to maximize their profits.
“Human smugglers have repeatedly demonstrated that they have absolutely no regard for human life,” Homan said. “Our ICE agents and officers, working closely with our law enforcement partners, will pursue these smugglers and bring them to justice.”