A 60-year-old Florida man was charged Monday with one count of transporting illegal immigrants after 10 people died from being trapped inside a scorching hot tractor trailer over part of the weekend, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
James Matthew Bradley was charged in the Western District of Texas and could face life in prison or death, a $250,000 fine, and three years of supervised release for transporting between 70 and 180 to 200 illegal immigrants, according to the federal complaint.
"To maximize their criminal profits, these human smugglers crammed more than 100 people into a tractor trailer in the stifling Texas summer heat resulting in 10 dead and 29 others hospitalized," Acting ICE Director Thomas Homan said in a statement. "Human smugglers have repeatedly demonstrated that they have absolutely no regard for human life. Our ICE agents and officers, working closely with our law enforcement partners, will pursue these smugglers and bring them to justice."
San Antonio Police Department officers responded to a call at the Walmart on Access Road after midnight Sunday evening. The first police officer at the scene found a tractor trailer parked behind the store.
The driver, Bradley, was in the cab and said he was transporting the trailer from Schaller, Iowa, to Brownsville, Texas. Bradley claimed he did not know there were as many as 40 illegal immigrants in the trailer and only made the discovery when he exited the truck to use the restroom, but no additional details were shared in the court documents.
Bradley claimed he was "run over by 'Spanish people' and knocked to the ground" after 30 to 40 people broke out of the trailer.
Walmart video surveillance showed the truck driver getting people out of the truck and exchanging them to vehicles that would pull up.
The truck's air conditioning system was broken and outdoor temperatures topped 100 degrees. The temperature inside the trailer would have been even hotter.
Police initially found eight deceased people in the truck. Approximately 20 people were in serious condition and eight others with heat stroke and dehydration were taken to local hospitals for treatment.
Some of the victims later told federal agents how they illegally crossed the Rio Grande River in Texas and were able to enter the country. The individual groups of illegal immigrants were brought together from stash houses they had been living in border towns and loaded onto the trailer Sunday.
Bradley is scheduled to go before U.S. Magistrate Judge Elizabeth S. Chestney on Monday.