Bodies of eight “undocumented” immigrants were found today in the back of a sweltering tractor-trailer in the US, authorities said. Police were alerted by a Walmart employee who was approached by someone in the truck who asked the employee for water. The employee brought water for the man, then called police and asked them to conduct a welfare check, San Antonio Police Chief William McManus was quoted as saying by CNN. That’s when authorities made the gruesome discovery: eight bodies and 30 suffering from various injuries, fire department spokesman Joe Arrington was quoted as saying by the report. He said 17 of those are critical condition, and 13 are in serious condition.
The eight immigrants are believed to have died as a result of heat exposure or asphyxiation, according to a San Antonio Police Department statement, but an official cause of death will be determined by the Bexar County Medical Examiner’s Office. Officials said it was a refrigerated trailer but the air conditioning wasn’t working. Experts estimate the temperature inside the closed-in trailer could have reached dangerous levels.
“We quickly called a ‘mass casualty incident’ and had about 29 units arrive out there and start transporting people,” San Antonio Fire Chief Charles Hood said. “With heat strokes or heat injuries, a lot of them are going to have some irreversible brain damage. Unfortunately, some of them were severely overheated, and that was a refrigerated truck with no refrigeration,” Hood said.
Authorities don’t know where the trailer is from or how long it was parked at Walmart. Police are also searching the area with helicopters after some people ran into the woods. The driver was arrested, but police did not provide any information on him.
“The driver and whoever else we find is involved in this will be facing state and federal charges,” McManus said. “Fortunately, we came across this one and fortunately there are people who survived but this happens all the time,” he said. Police suspect it to be a case of human trafficking.
Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) launched 2,110 human smuggling investigations, which resulted in 1,522 criminal convictions. During that same year, he said, HSI made 2,734 criminal arrests and 3,007 administrative arrests related to human smuggling operations. In one of the biggest smuggling tragedies in the country’s history, 19 people died in 2003 after being abandoned in a trailer in Victoria. The driver of the truck was sentenced to life in prison, but that was overturned and he was later given a prison term of nearly 34 years.