SAN ANTONIO (CN) — Federal prosecutors charged Homero Zamorano Jr. and three others on criminal charges for their involvement in the deaths of 53 migrants who were found trapped inside a sweltering tractor-trailer in San Antonio.
Zamorano, 45, is accused of being the driver of the tractor-trailer later spotted in surveillance footage obtained by Homeland Security agents traveling through an immigration checkpoint about 150 miles south of San Antonio wearing a black shirt with stripes and a hat.
Zamorano was arrested Wednesday and is scheduled to make his initial court appearance Thursday afternoon before a U.S. magistrate in the Western District of Texas, where he will be charged with one count of alien smuggling resulting in death. He faces life in prison or death if convicted.
Forty-eight migrants were found dead at the scene Monday after San Antonio police responded to 911 calls from concerned citizens that led them to a tractor-trailer parked along a rural road in the city’s southwest side. Sixteen of the 64 undocumented individuals being transported illegally were taken to local hospitals, with five later dying.
“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,” according to the U.S. attorney for the Western District.
The U.S. Justice Department said in a news release Wednesday evening that Zamorano, who is originally from Brownsville but now lives in Pasadena, was discovered hiding in nearby brush, where many of the victims were found deceased, after attempting to flee authorities.
Justice Department officials have identified 22 of the deceased as Mexican nationals, seven as Guatemalan nationals, two Honduran nationals and 17 of unknown origin but suspected to be undocumented non-citizens.
A second individual, 28-year-old Christian Martinez was also arrested Wednesday and charged with conspiracy to transport illegal aliens resulting in death. According to court documents, a search warrant of Zamorano’s cell phone uncovered communications between him and Martinez to the smuggling event, which authorities have described as the single worst human smuggling case in U.S. history
Martinez made his initial appearance Wednesday in Tyler but will be transported to San Antonio for further proceedings, according to prosecutors.
Two Mexican citizens connected to the registration for the tractor-trailer were also arrested and made their initial appearances Monday. Juan Claudio D’Luna-Mendez, 32, and Juan Francisco D’Luna Bilbao, 48, were both arrested in San Antonio and determined to be in the country illegally.
They were charged with one count of possession of a weapon by an alien illegally in the U.S. after a handgun was discovered in one of their trucks during a traffic stop and more firearms were found at the residence.
At a press conference Wednesday, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott announced that new checkpoints near the Texas/Mexico border would be added to inspect trucks coming from Mexico. He blamed a lack of Border Patrol resources for being unable to inspect all of the trucks.
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