Four men, including two Mexican nationals, have been arrested in connection with the people-smuggling operation that resulted in the horrific death of 53 people in the back of a semi-trailer near the southern US border
As Bloomberg reports, 45-year-old Homero Zamorano Jr. was arrested on Monday after San Antonio police found him hiding in the brush near the trailer, the US DOJ announced in a statement. His clothing and appearance matched video provided by the border patrol of the truck when it passed through an immigration checkpoint without incident.
Emergency personnel recovered the bodies of 48 individuals from the trailer and transported 16 others to a local hospital, where five died. All of the victims are believed to be in the US illegally, with most hailing from Mexico or Central America. Temperatures that day had reached as high as 103 degrees Fahrenheit (39 Celsius).
Police said they searched Zamorano’s cell phone and traced discussions he had about transporting the smuggled migrants with another man, Christian Martinez, 28, who was arrested in Palestine, Texas. -Bloomberg
Zamorano Jr. was charged with smuggling aliens resulting in death, while Martinez was slapped with conspiracy to transport illegal aliens resulting in death. Both could see life in prison or a potential death sentence, according to the DOJ.
According to Reuters, Zamorano Jr. was under the influence of methamphetamine when police encountered him.
U.S. Representative Henry Cuellar, a Democrat whose district includes the eastern part of San Antonio, told Reuters on Thursday that Zamorano was found to have had methamphetamine, a powerful synthetic drug, in his system.
Cuellar said he was briefed on the matter by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), but did not know how authorities made that determination. A CBP official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, separately told Reuters that Zamorano had methamphetamine in his system.
Meanwhile, two other men were arrested in connection with the case after police traced the registration of the tractor trailer to a house in San Antonio. One of the men had a gun in his truck outside, while police found more guns inside.
Mexican nationals Juan Claudio D’Luna-Mendez, 23, and Juan Francisco D’Luna-Bilboa, 48, were each charged with one count of being an illegal alien in possession of a weapon - a charge which could land them in prison for up to a decade.
With all four men in federal custody, Zamorano is expected to appear in court on Thursday, while the Mexican nationals are scheduled to appear on Friday for a detention hearing in San Antonio. Martinez, who appeared Wednesday, will be transported to San Antonio.