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Thursday, July 25, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Families Lose Bid Over Trailer Deaths

VICTORIA, Texas (CN) - An 18-year-old trailer is too old for products liability relief, a federal judge ruled, dismissing claims made by the families of two men who suffocated while trapped in the trailer during a human-smuggling tragedy.

In May 2003, 19 of 100 men, women and children, died in the sealed Great Dane trailer that driver Tyrone Williams abandoned. Williams was en route from the border town of Harlingen when he ditched the trailer 100 miles south of Houston at a Victoria truck stop.

Mateo Salgado and Augusto Stalin Vargas were among the deceased who succumbed to asphyxia and hyperthermia. Their family members filed a civil suit against Great Dane Trailers and Salem Truck Leasing in federal court in October 2010.

The families say Great Dane made the trailer without a ventilation system or an escape device. Williams left the air conditioner off, and the immigrants were stuck inside as the temperature soared.

"The Texas statute of repose mandates that products liability actions must be filed against the manufacturer or seller within fifteen years of the sale of the product," Senior U.S. District Judge John Rainey wrote in a six-page order.

In its motion for summary judgment, Great Dane had argued that it sold the trailer in 1992.

Rainey granted Great Dane's unopposed motion, finding the families missed the deadline for products liability claims by more than three years.

The motion for summary judgment did not include Salem Truck Leasing, which owned the trailer.

Williams evaded the death penalty and is currently serving a sentence of 405 months in prison.

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