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National

10 People Die In San Antonio In Unventilated Tractor-Trailer

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

We're going to hear the latest now about a horrific human smuggling case in San Antonio. A tractor-trailer was discovered there yesterday. It was parked in a Walmart parking lot. It was unventilated with no air conditioning. Inside, eight immigrants were dead. There were 30 more people. Since then, two more people have died. The truck driver, James Matthew Bradley Jr., appeared in federal court today and was charged with smuggling immigrants. We're joined now by Joey Palacios of Texas Public Radio in San Antonio. And, Joey, could you just tell us what happened yesterday and how these people were discovered?

JOEY PALACIOS, BYLINE: Sure, Kelly. This was around 12:30 Sunday morning. A Walmart worker says that somebody from the back of a semi came and approached him asking for water. The worker called police. And when police arrived to that semi, they opened the doors and found nearly 40 people, eight of whom were dead. All of the survivors were suffering from heat-related illnesses like heat stroke, dehydration and even asphyxiation. They were all rushed to seven area hospitals, where the majority of them have been for the past 24 hours. Since then, two more have died.

MCEVERS: And you were in court today for the driver's arraignment. What else did you learn?

PALACIOS: So James Matthew Bradley was taken into the courtroom by federal authorities. He was handcuffed. He was wearing a blue jumpsuit. In the words of the Department of Justice, he's being charged with transporting illegal aliens in a manner that also resulted in their death. So James Bradley claims that he picked up the trailer from Schaller, Iowa, with the intent of delivering it to Brownsville, Texas. Somewhere along the way, he stopped in Laredo, Texas, to get it washed and detailed.

He brought the truck up to San Antonio, where it was parked in the Walmart parking lot. When he got out to use the restroom, he said that he heard noises or banging from inside the trailer. That's when he opened the doors and he said that around 30 people rushed out of the trailer and then disappeared.

MCEVERS: And have we heard anything from the survivors, the people who are in hospitals?

PALACIOS: So according to special agents with Homeland Security Investigations, they did - well, they were able to talk to a few people. There's one person that's only referred to by initials. He said that he left his home in Mexico for the purpose of traveling to Nuevo Laredo, and he wanted to be smuggled into the United States with a final destination of San Antonio. When he finally reached here, he was supposed to pay the smugglers around $5,500. He says that he met with a group of around 20 or so other people to be smuggled across the Rio Grande. This individual said around 9 a.m. Sunday he was picked up by a pickup truck and taken to the trailer that he later traveled in. It doesn't say exactly where the trailer was, and it didn't actually leave from Laredo until around 9 o'clock. Then around two and a half hours later, supposedly they got to San Antonio.

He says that during the first hour of transportation, everybody seemed to be OK. Later, people started having trouble breathing. Some of them started to pass out. And people began trying to hit the trailer walls and making noise to get the driver's attention, but the driver never stopped. There was a hole in the trailer wall that people would take turns sticking their nose through to try to get some type of ventilation because there was no refrigeration in the truck. There was no cooling system in the truck.

And again, according to this person, when they actually got to the Walmart parking lot, the driver braked and people inside the trailer had fallen over. The exact number of people that were inside the trailer is in dispute right now that - another person they talked to said there could have been anywhere from 180 to 200 people inside the trailer. So it's really unknown how many people were being transported at the time.

MCEVERS: What happens next?

PALACIOS: So Bradley is supposed to have a formal hearing this Thursday at the San Antonio Federal Courthouse. That's where U.S. attorneys and his court-appointed defense will be able to make their case.

MCEVERS: Joey Palacios of Texas Public Radio in San Antonio. Thank you so much.

PALACIOS: Thank you, Kelly. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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