Suspected Human-Trafficking Crime Leaves 10 Dead in Texas
Tractor-trailer found outside Wal-Mart had nearly 40 people inside; authorities don’t know where the truck began its journey
The death toll from an apparent human smuggling crime has risen to 10 after eight people were found dead in San Antonio overnight inside a sweltering tractor trailer packed with men, women and children, authorities said. Two later died in the hospital.
Twenty people who also were in the trailer were taken to area hospitals, some by helicopter, in very serious or extremely critical condition, San Antonio Fire Chief Charles Hood said at an early morning news conference. Another eight individuals were treated for less serious dehydration, he said. Paramedics reported that people had high heart rates and were hot to the touch, suffering from heat stroke and dehydration, he said.
“The truck was loaded with people,” Chief Hood told reporters at the news conference. A total of about 38 people were believed to be inside the truck, including “at least two school-age children,” he said. There wasn’t any additional information on their identities or countries of origin.
“We’re looking at a human-trafficking crime here,” San Antonio Police Chief William McManus said.
Police responded to an 18-wheeler parked in a Wal-Mart parking lot after a bedraggled man emerged from the vehicle and approached a store worker, demanding water. Inside the truck, police and paramedics found eight people dead, and about 28 others packed among them, Chief McManus said.
Some of those inside fled into some nearby woods as authorities arrived, Chief McManus said, adding that they would resume searching for other potential passengers in the woods Sunday morning. Passengers are likely to be turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement for questioning after they have been treated, he added.
The driver of the truck, parked outside a Wal-Mart store, is in custody and will face charges, said Richard Durbin Jr., the U.S. attorney for western Texas.
Mr. Durbin said those inside the trailer were “victims of ruthless human smugglers indifferent to the well-being of their fragile cargo.”
“These people were helpless in the hands of their transporters,” he said in a statement. “Imagine their suffering, trapped in a stifling trailer in 100-plus degree heat.”
The trailer wasn’t air-conditioned and rescuers saw no sign occupants had access to water.
“They were very hot to the touch. So these people were in that trailer without any signs of any type of water,” Chief Hood said. “So you are looking at heatstroke, a lot of dehydration,” he added.
The Wal-Mart’s surveillance camera shows that a number of vehicles had earlier arrived to pick up some of the people who were in the trailer and survived the trip, Chief McManus said.
He said authorities didn’t yet know where the truck began its journey and that the Department of Homeland Security is aiding the investigation. Anyone else found to be involved would face state and federal charges, he said, while the individuals in the trailer will be investigated by immigration authorities.
“This is not an isolated incident; this happens quite frequently,” Mr. McManus said, referring to human trafficking. “It happens late at night, under darkness.”
In fiscal year 2016, the Homeland Security Investigations arm of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement launched 2,110 human smuggling investigations, yielding 1,522 criminal convictions, federal officials say.
That same year the unit made 2,734 criminal arrests and about 3,000 administrative arrests linked to trafficking.