Nine men died and dozens of people were wounded from extreme heat packed into a tractor-trailer outside a San Antonio Walmart on Saturday night in what federal authorities are calling a case of smuggling.
The U.S. Department of Justice has taken into custody James Mathew Bradley, Jr., 60, of Clearwater, Florida and has said it will issue a criminal complaint on Monday.
Without specifying where they came from, San Antonio Police Chief William McManus at a press conference said that 38 people were packed inside the tractor-trailer, including two children, without air conditioning. The Department of Justice later clarified that there were 39 people, having found someone in the woods Sunday morning.
A Walmart employee called police for a welfare check Saturday night after someone left the truck and asked them for water. Temperatures that day were expected to rise to 101 degrees, according to the National Weather Service.
San Antonio Fire Chief Charles Hood said that the people who were found alive had heart rates of 130 beats per minute at the time and that 20 of them were suffering from severe heat-related injuries, maybe even brain damage, with eight in less-critical condition.
Surveillance tapes show a number of vehicles had been coming throughout the night and picking up individuals from the truck, which was parked just off Interstate Highway 35, about 2.5 hours north of the Mexico border.
McManus initially called it a case of human trafficking and at the end of the conference said that this “is not an isolated incident.”
“This happens quite frequently. Fortunately we came across this one, fortunately there are people who survived,” he said.
But by Sunday afternoon, the Department of Homeland Security had taken the lead on the investigation and referred to it as a case of smuggling, releasing a statement by U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement Acting Director Thomas Homan.
“By any standard, the horrific crime uncovered last night ranks as a stark reminder of why human smuggling networks must be pursued, caught and punished,” Homan said.
Homeland Security initiated 2,110 human smuggling investigations, resulting in 1,522 criminal convictions, in fiscal year 2016.