Two men indicted in San Antonio migrant truck tragedy that killed 53



Two men were indicted Wednesday for their roles in the deaths of 53 migrants, including three children, found in the back of a sweltering tractor-trailer in San Antonio last month in what was the deadliest smuggling incident of its kind in U.S. history.

A federal grand jury in San Antonio indicted Homero Zamorano Jr., 46, of Pasadena, Tex., and Christian Martinez, 28, of Palestine, Tex., on counts of transporting and conspiring to transport immigrants illegally resulting in death; and conspiring to transport immigrants illegally resulting in serious injury, according to the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Texas.

If convicted, the two could face up to life in prison or the death penalty. The U.S. attorney general’s office will decide whether to seek the death penalty for Zamorano and Martinez, according to a statement.

Authorities in San Antonio previously said they were alerted to the scene June 27 after a worker in a nearby building heard a cry for help and went to investigate. When emergency personnel arrived, they found 64 migrants from Mexico and Central America in a tractor-trailer — many of them dead, some of them moaning and too weak to move. Those alive were suffering from heat exhaustion and were transferred to local hospitals on a day on which temperatures soared to 100 degrees.

Deaths of 53 migrants in Texas stoke grief, fears of a deadly summer

Federal officials said that Zamorano was found hiding in the brush trying to flee as authorities pulled the bodies of dozens of lifeless migrants from the trailer. Authorities later identified Zamorano as the driver of the vehicle, which had been on Interstate 35.

“A search warrant was executed on a cell phone belonging to Zamorano,” the U.S. attorney’s office said. “Through investigation, it was discovered that communications occurred between Zamorano and Martinez concerning the smuggling event.”

Homeland Security Investigations, a branch of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement that specializes in human-trafficking cases and led the investigation, reviewed surveillance footage of the tractor-trailer crossing through an immigration checkpoint, where the driver was seen wearing a black shirt with stripes and a hat.

HSI agents confirmed that Zamorano matched the person in the footage, officials said.

Attorneys for both men did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The gruesome scene of the migrants cramped together in the trailer with no air conditioning, in sweltering heat, shocked not just veteran immigration officials and first responders in San Antonio but also the entire nation.

The discovery of at least 53 dead inside a sweltering tractor trailer in Texas is putting a new light on an old problem: human smuggling across borders. (Video: Lee Powell/The Washington Post)

In the weeks since the horrific incident, authorities have gained a better understanding of those who were inside the trailer. The migrants — 50 adults and three children — hailed from as far away as a remote Mayan village in the mountains of Guatemala. Some had been in the United States before. Others had plans to reunite with relatives. Most were young and pursuing simple dreams, such as earning enough to build a home. Two of the youngest were 13.

As medical examiners continued the painstaking process of identifying the bodies, families across Central America began receiving news that their loved ones had perished.

In northwestern Honduras, Karen Caballero learned that her two sons’ ID cards had been found in the trailer. The two men, Fernando Jose Redondo Caballero, 20, and Alejandro Miguel Andino Caballero, 24, had left home in early June and paid a smuggler to make the journey north. They traveled with Margie Tamara Paz Grajeda, 25, Alejandro Miguel’s girlfriend.

Thirteen-year-old Pascual Melvin Guachiac Sipac left Sololá, Guatemala, to live with his dad in Houston.

His mother, Maria Sipac Coj, still has his last message: “Mom, today they are taking me in a trailer.”

Texas migrant tragedy brings grief to families back home

The tragedy came amid a record influx of migrants across the U.S.-Mexico border, where authorities are on pace to record more than 2 million arrests during fiscal 2022, posing a significant challenge for both local authorities and the Biden administration.

In addition to Zamorano and Martinez, Juan Claudio D’Luna-Mendez, 23, and Juan Francisco D’Luna-Bilbao, 48, both citizens of Mexico, have been arrested on charges of being undocumented immigrants in possession of several weapons and at least one rifle.

If convicted of the weapons charges, both defendants face up to 10 years in prison.

Authorities said they arrested the Mexican men on the weapons charges after tracing the tractor-trailer’s state registration to their address in San Antonio.

Immigration advocates say that however tragic, the event is not an isolated one, as authorities in Central America grapple with rising numbers of people fleeing poverty, violence and corruption for a life in the United States.

In May, Mexican migration officials found at least 137 migrants cramped together in the back of a trailer — dehydrated and abandoned on the side of a highway in northern Mexico. During that same week in May, authorities found two other overcrowded trucks carrying migrants in two other states.

In December, a cargo truck carrying more than 100 migrants crashed in southern Mexico, killing at least 53 people and injuring several others.


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