Driver of Texas migrant truck, 45, was ‘very high on meth’ when arrested in a field as two Mexican men are charged
US authorities believe 67 people who paid $10,000 to ‘human smugglers’ could have been in back of sweltering trailer
Truck driver Homero Zamorano was ‘very high on meth’ when police arrested him
He was taken into custody while pretending to be one of the injured migrants in the trailer, he now faces federal charges
Zamorano, who is believed to have driven the truck, faces federal charges
Two Mexican nationals, Juan Francisco D’Luna-Bilbao and Juan Claudio D’Luna-Mendez , were also arrested over the fatal smuggling incident
They are charged with possessing firearms while residing in the U.S. illegally
Zamorano has been charged at this time, but those could come in the coming days as the investigation continues
The driver who abandoned a semi-truck carrying up to 100 migrants who paid around $10,000 for safe passage to the US was ‘very high on meth’ when Texas police arrested him.
Homero Zamorano, 45, of Houston, was arrested by ICE on Monday while pretending to be one of the injured migrants in the trailer attached to the deserted truck in the sweltering heat.
He was taken to a local hospital for treatment. He was identified
Two other Mexican nationals Juan Francisco D’Luna-Bilbao and Juan Claudio D’Luna-Mendez were also taken into custody at a home in San Antonio.
They were charged in federal court Tuesday with possessing firearms while residing in the US illegally. The incident left 53 migrants, including five children, dead.
Zamorano has not been charged at this time, but those are expected to come in the coming days as the investigation continues
The incident left 53 migrants, including five children, dead. Officials have identified 34 of the deceased, which included two Guatemalan sisters who came to the US in pursuit of the American Dream.
But the identification process has proven slow as victims have been found with stolen IDs or no identification documents at all.
Homero Zamorano, 45, is shown in a surveillance photo, which was taken just before 3 p.m. Monday passing through a customs checkpoint in the city of Encinal.
Mexican authorities showed the photo during a news conference on Wednesday, along with another photo of him in a hospital bed after they say he tried passing himself off as one of the survivors.
Authorities believe Zamorano started his route near Laredo on Monday before making his way through Encinal, Cotulla before abandoning the truck on the Southwest Side of San Antonio. They say a total of 67 migrants were in the back of that sweltering hot trailer. The truck went through a Border Patrol checkpoint northeast of Laredo on Interstate 35 on Monday.
Prior to embarking on the more than two-hour trip to San Antonio, the truck had been parked Monday in South Texas just north of the border. The truck it is believed, developed mechanical problems and was then left next to a railroad track in an area of San Antonio surrounded by auto scrapyards that brush up against a busy freeway.
A city worker found the truck parked beside some railroad tracks around 6pm Monday after hearing a faint cry for help emanating from the truck. Temperatures had soared to as high as 103 degrees Fahrenheit.
Police recalled finding the rear door to the trailer open with ‘stacks of bodies’ inside, while other victims were strewn collapsed nearby.
Some of the victims were hot to the touch and there were no signs of water or visible means of air-conditioning inside the truck. First responders said the migrants were ‘treated worse than animals.’
‘The heat was torrential. There was no air in that vehicle. There was no water,’ San Antonio Fire Chief Charles Hood explained Wednesday morning on GMA. ‘They suffered. They lost consciousness and then they ended up dying.’
Police Chief William McManus said officers had to ‘separate some of the deceased trying to find who might still be alive.’
Law enforcement officials believe the truck may have been carrying around 100 migrants, but the exact number remains unclear.
Homeland Security Investigations agents confirmed migrants typically pay $8,000 to $10,000 to be taken across the southern boarder, loaded into the tractor-trailer and driven to San Antonio.
Once in San Antonio they are transferred to smaller vehicles to be taken to their final destinations across the US.
When Zomaro, the alleged driver, who was arrested shortly after the truck was discovered, ‘He was very high on meth when he was arrested nearby and had to be taken to the hospital,’ a law enforcement official confirmed to The San Antonio Express News.
The two Mexican men – D’Luna-Bilbao and D’Luna-Mendez – were arrested at a residence in the 100 block of Arnold Drive after officers traced the semi’s registration to the property.
The residence was placed under surveillance and both men were arrested as they attempted to leave the property.
The semi-truck was first linked to an Alamo resident named Felipe Betancourt, but an investigation revealed the smugglers had cloned that Texan’s license plate and registration.
‘His DOT Number was illegally copied onto the truck…’ said Betancourt’s son-in-law Isaac Limon, who maintains the vehicle information had been stolen.
‘It was a perfect setup,’ Limon told Washington Post.
That registration was for a Volvo truck owned by the family that actually had been out hauling grain in another part of Texas at the time of the incident.
More than a day after the discovery of the stifling trailer, obtaining the identities of the 53 victims has been hindered by the challenges of tracing people who cross borders clandestinely. Victims have been found with no identification documents at all and in one case a stolen ID.
Furthermore, remote villages lack phone service to reach family members and determine the whereabouts of missing migrants. Fingerprint data has to be shared and matched by different governments.
By Tuesday afternoon, medical examiners had potentially identified 34 of the victims, said Bexar County Commissioner Rebeca Clay-Flores. These include 7 Guatemalans, 27 Mexicans and 2 Hondurans.
Those identities were not yet confirmed pending additional steps, such as fingerprints, and she described it as a challenge with no timeline on when the process might be finished.
‘It’s a tedious, tedious, sad, difficult process,’ Clay-Flores said.
The deceased list has 40 men and 13 women. Five of the victims were under the age of 18. Investigators said they were not young children, but possibly teenagers.
Sisters Carla and Griselda Carac-Tambriz, of Guatemala, were the first victims to be named in wake of the tragedy. Immigration consultant Fernando Castro Molina confirmed their identities to Guatemalan-based newspaper El Metropolitano on Tuesday afternoon.
Guatemala’s foreign ministry had confirmed the identities of two hospitalized Guatemalans, while working to identify three among the dead, who were possible Guatemalan.
Stolen identification documents have further challenged authorities trying to tracing the victims.
Mexico’s foreign affairs secretary identified identified two people Tuesday who were hospitalized in San Antonio on Tuesday morning.
But it turned out that one of the identification cards he shared on Twitter had been stolen last year in the southern state of Chiapas.
Haneydi Antonio Guzman, 23, was safe and sound in a mountain community more than 1,300 miles away from San Antonio on Tuesday when she began receiving messages from family and friends.
‘That’s me on the ID, but I am not the person that was in the trailer and they say is hospitalized,’ she she told reporters who showed up at her home in Escuintla.
‘My relatives were contacting me worried, asking where I was. I told them I was fine, that I was in my house and I clarified it on Facebook.’
Foreign Affairs Secretary Marcelo Ebrard deleted the original tweet identifying her without further comment.
The other hospitalized victim Ebrard identified Tuesday – 32-year-old José Luis Guzmán Vásquez – turned out to be accurate.
Honduras’ foreign relations ministry said it was working to confirm the identities of four people who died in the truck and carried Honduran papers. It is working with the Honduras consulate in south Texas to match names and fingerprints and complete identifications. The process is painstaking because among the pitfalls are fake or stolen documents.
Among the dead, the 27 believed to be of Mexican origin is based on documents they were carrying, according to Rubén Minutti, the Mexico consul general in San Antonio.
More than a dozen survivors were transported to area hospitals for treatment of heat stroke and exhaustion, including four minors.
Several of the survivors were in critical condition with injuries such as brain damage and internal bleeding.
Mexico’s foreign affairs secretary identified a hospitalized victim on Tuesday as José Luis Guzmán Vásquez, 32, of San Miguel Huautla, Mexico.
His current condition remains unknown.
Officials in Mexico traveled to Guzmán Vásquez’s community late Tuesday to find out if his mother wanted to travel to San Antonio to be with him in the hospital.
Mexican authorities also sai that another cousin had been traveling with Guzmán Vásquez and was now considered missing.
The victims were found sprinkled with a pungent substance, possibly steak seasoning, officials said. The practice is commonly used by smugglers to mask the scent of human cargo and evade canine detection.
Police suspect several migrants may have jumped or started falling out of the back of truck before the traffickers abandoned it along the roadway.
At least three bodies were found scattered down road, with the furthest one located about 75 yards from the truck, law enforcement sources confirmed to The New York Times.
Officials also said it was possible that those found along the road had died inside the truck, but fallen out when its doors opened.
Some of the victims staggered out of the trailer before dying and were found several blocks away, police told The Texas Tribune.
‘It’s unspeakable,’ San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg said on MSNBC, noting that his community depends on migrants in the midst of a labor shortage. ‘It’s a tragedy beyond explanation.’
The surviving migrants will likely be released into the U.S. to pursue asylum or other forms of humanitarian relief, the CBP official and two other law enforcement officials told Reuters. Some survivors of human smuggling in the past have been taken into American custody to testify as witnesses.