SAN ANTONIO — An apparent smuggling operation involving undocumented immigrants came to a tragic conclusion early Sunday morning when emergency responders found dozens of people in distress inside a hot semi-trailer in a Walmart parking lot.
Eight people were dead at the scene, according to the San Antonio Fire Department. Thomas Homan, acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, told The Associated Press on Sunday afternoon that another person died later in an area hospital.
In a statement, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Texas and the Department of Homeland Security said all of the deceased were adult males.
Seventeen more victims were transported to University Hospital and San Antonio Military Medical Center with life-threatening injuries. Another 13 with non-life-threatening injuries were taken to area hospitals.
The driver of the semi, identified as James Mathew Bradley Jr., 60, of Clearwater, Fla., was arrested, San Antonio Police Chief William McManus said. The U.S. Attorney’s Office said Bradley was in federal custody and that a criminal complaint would be filed Monday morning in a San Antonio federal court.
“We’re looking at a human-trafficking crime,” McManus said Sunday, adding that many of those inside the 18-wheeler appeared to be in their 20s and 30s and that there were also apparently two school-age children.
McManus said the people in the trailer would be reviewed by ICE agents to determine their immigration status. Homan said some of the survivors told authorities they were from Mexico.
Authorities said an employee at the Walmart encountered a person who was disoriented and asking for water at the store, which is located on San Antonio’s southwest side. The person said that there were people inside the trailer outside who needed help.
When police arrived on the scene around 12:30 a.m. Sunday, they detained the driver immediately and searched the trailer to find several people in various stages of medical distress. At least 29 fire units and two AirLIFE choppers responded to the scene to take care of the victims.
Police said there was a total of 38 victims in and around the trailer, which did not have a working air conditioning system. Based on initial interviews with survivors, Homan said Sunday there may have been more than 100 people in the truck. The rest are believed to have fled or been picked up.