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Truck driver to stay in jail until trial over deaths of 53 migrants

A first list identifying 47 of the 53 immigrants who died last week was released Wednesday by the Bexar County Medical Examiner as a makeshift memorial honoring the victims grows.

SAN ANTONIO (CN) — The Texas man accused of driving the tractor-trailer carrying 53 migrants who died from extreme heat in San Antonio in a failed human smuggling attempt will remain behind bars until his trial, federal court records show.

Homero Zamorano Jr., 45, was scheduled to appear for the second time in San Antonio federal court Wednesday but waived his detention hearing where a judge would have determined whether he was eligible for pretrial release. The waiver means he elected not to contest the government’s motion to detain and will be confined without bail pending trial after prosecutors in the Western District of Texas charged him last Wednesday with one count of alien smuggling resulting in death.

Zamorano was one of four individuals charged last week in the nation’s deadliest human smuggling case that unfolded along a rural road in southwest San Antonio, about 150 miles north of an immigration checkpoint that the doomed tractor-trailer made it through without drawing suspicion. Surveillance photos provided by the Laredo Sector Border Patrol helped agents with Homeland Security Investigations identify him as the driver of the refrigerated truck that had no working air conditioning.

Zamorano, who was reportedly high on meth, was discovered by San Antonio police hiding in nearby brush among some of the victims after abandoning the tractor-trailer, where many of the dead were found after witnesses called 911.

On Wednesday, the Bexar County Medical Examiner’s Office provided a first list of fatalities from the tractor-trailer found on Quintana Road, a bumpy and unmarked stretch that has developed into a makeshift memorial with dozens of large wooden crosses dotting the area.

Gatorade bottles forming a cross are seen at a makeshift memorial on July 6, 2022 that sprung up in San Antonio at the site of the nation's deadliest human smuggling incident where 53 people died. (Erik De La Garza/Courthouse News)

Forty-seven of the 53 victims have been conclusively identified and range in age from 13 to 55, the medical examiner said. Twenty-two were citizens of Mexico, 19 were from Guatemala and six came from Honduras. There are still six more victims who the medical examiner in coordination with various consulates are working to confirm the identifies of.

Angelita Olvera, 65, said she was at her granddaughter’s baseball game last Monday when she first read news of the botched smuggling attempt that happened down the street from her home.

“When I saw on Facebook what had just occurred I just couldn’t concentrate on the game,” Olvera said Wednesday at the victims’ memorial, where she has volunteered to hand out bottles of water to visitors from places like North Carolina, Waco, Dallas and Houston.

“We are all human beings. Today it’s them, tomorrow it might be us the way the situation is here,” she said. “Just pray and hopefully this political stuff clears up.”

Two days after the discovery of the tractor-trailer, Republican Governor Greg Abbott announced he would create a Texas Department of Public Safety “strike team” consisting of 20 state troopers to establish new vehicle checkpoints targeting semi-trucks “to mitigate President Biden’s growing border crisis.” Almost immediately after the incident, Abbott, who is facing a general election challenge from former Congressman Beto O'Rourke in November, began blaming Biden for the migrants’ deaths, which he said were a result of the president's "deadly open border policies.”

But at the growing memorial in San Antonio, the focus remained on the victims, where hundreds of photos, candles, water bottles and messages like, “We are all equal in the eyes of God” and “Stop human smuggling” continue to grow in size and visitors.

Zamorano made his initial appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge Elizabeth Chestney last week. His detention hearing that he waived his rights to Wednesday would have reviewed factors such as his employment history, criminal record and type of crime he is accused of to determine his eligibility for release.

Zamorano, who has a history of criminal offenses dating back to 1995, faces life in prison or the death penalty if convicted. He is represented by Austin-based federal public defender Jose I. Gonzalez-Falla and San Antonio defense attorney Mark Stevens.

A wooden cross with the photo of a man is seen at a makeshift memorial on July 6, 2022 that sprung up in San Antonio at the site of the nation's deadliest human smuggling incident where 53 people died. (Erik De La Garza/Courthouse News)

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