Two men were charged Wednesday with the deaths of 53 migrants who died after the tractor-trailer they were in was found abandoned in San Antonio last month, federal prosecutors said.
Homero Zamorano Jr., 46, and Christian Martinez, 28, were previously indicted, but a federal grand jury on Wednesday dismissed both charges that could lead to life imprisonment or the death penalty, the US Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Texas said. said.
The June 27 incident is considered the deadliest human trafficking in modern US history.
Fifty adults and three children died after the vehicle was found in San Antonio, officials said.
Zamorano, of Pasadena, Texas, and Martinez, of Palestine, Texas, were indicted on charges of conspiracy to transport illegal aliens resulting in death, transport illegal aliens resulting in death, and other charges, the US law firm said .
Those two counts lead to life imprisonment or the death penalty, prosecutors said.
Lawyers representing both men did not immediately return requests for comment on Wednesday.
Zamorano fit the description, wearing the same clothing as the driver of the vehicle, seen in surveillance videos at an immigration checkpoint, prosecutors said.
He was reportedly seen hiding and arrested by San Antonio police who responded to the truck, according to court documents.
Martinez’s phone showed he was communicating with Zamorano and asked where he was, and a confidential informant allegedly told investigators that Martinez admitted he was involved and identified the driver as “Homer,” according to one indictment.
According to the indictment, Martinez said “the driver was unaware that the air conditioning stopped working and was the reason why the individuals died.”
The truck was found in an undeveloped area in southwest San Antonio near railroad tracks. A person working in the area reported a cry for help and saw at least one body, officials said.
Police and fire officials described finding bodies in the tractor-trailer upon arrival, and patients who felt warm to the touch.
In addition to the charges related to the deaths, both men were also charged on one count with conspiracy and transportation of illegal aliens, resulting in serious bodily harm and endangering lives, prosecutors said. Those counts can carry up to 20 years in prison each.
Two other men arrested in connection with the investigation into the smuggling incident were charged on Wednesday with weapons possession, prosecutors said.
Juan Francisco D’Luna-Bilbao and Juan Claudio D’Luna-Mendez each face one charge of possessing a firearm while illegally present in the United States. said.
They are Mexican nationals who said they had overstayed their visa, according to a criminal charge filed against them earlier.
The men were taken into custody in separate traffic jams after they left the San Antonio home listed on the tractor-trailer registration card, the US law firm said.
A gun was found in the truck D’Luna-Bilbao was driving, and other weapons were found in that house, according to court documents.
Neither is charged with human smuggling. The firearms charge carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison, the US prosecutor’s office said.
Most of those who died were from Mexico and Guatemala. Of the 53, 26 were citizens of Mexico, 21 were citizens of Guatemala and six were citizens of Honduras, the Bexar County Medical Examiner’s Office said.
Their ages ranged from 13 to 55 years. Ten other adults and a child were injured, officials said.
In a 2003 case in Texas, 19 people died after being left in an airtight truck trailer in what was then called the country’s deadliest smuggling attempt.
Seventeen of the more than 70 people inside died before the abandoned truck was discovered, and two more people died later. The truck driver was sentenced to life in prison.
In 2017, 10 migrants died in a packed truck carrying 39 people in San Antonio in the heat of summer. The driver in that case was also sentenced to life imprisonment.