Four in custody in Texas migrant smuggler case

Four men are in federal custody after dozens of dead migrants were discovered Monday in the trailer of an apparently abandoned big rig in San Antonio.

Two additional judgments were announced Wednesday as the death toll rose to 53.

Homero Zamorano Jr. 45, of Pasadena, Texas, was arrested Wednesday on a charge of alien smuggling resulting in death, according to the US Attorney for the Western District of Texas.

Zamorano, who was wearing the same clothes as the big rig driver seen on surveillance footage at an immigration checkpoint, was found hiding in a bush and detained by San Antonio officers, officials said.

Christian Martinez, 28, was arrested Tuesday in Palestine, Texas, on one count of conspiracy to transport illegal aliens resulting in death, officials said.

A search of Martinez’s cellphone showed he and Zamorano had communicated about the smuggling event, according to federal officials.

Two other men were detained Monday after San Antonio police staked out an address in the Dellview community where the big rig was registered.

Criminal complaints filed separately in San Antonio federal court Tuesday charge Juan Francisco D’Luna-Bilbao and Juan Claudio D’Luna-Mendez with possession of a weapon by an alien illegally in the United States.

The two men, both Mexican citizens who said they had overstayed their visas, were detained after traffic stops, the criminal complaint states.

D’Luna-Bilbao had a gun in the center console of the truck, and officers found multiple firearms in the bedrooms of both men when they searched the home, the documents state.

Neither D’Luna-Bilbao nor D’Luna-Mendez has been formally accused of smuggling, or the deaths and injuries to the migrants.

It wasn’t immediately clear if they had legal representation. The federal public defender for the area did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Both Zamorano and Martinez face up to life in prison or the death penalty. D’Luna-Bilbao and Juan Claudio D’Luna-Mendez face up to 10 years in prison.

Most of the victims were dead by the time first responders arrived in the undeveloped area of ​​southwest San Antonio near railroad tracks.

Forty of the victims are male and 13 are female, according to a statement released by Bexar County on Wednesday.

“While verification through consular channels is pending, 37 of the victims have potential identifications,” the statement said.

Bexar County said its medical examiner’s office is coordinating with the consulates of Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, however, the Consulate General of El Salvador in Laredo, Texas, said the Department of Homeland Security had not identified any Salvadoran residents.

Eleven people remained in hospitals Wednesday, according to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials. At least two were in critical condition, including one at Baptist Medical Center and “an adolescent male” at University Health San Antonio.

Temperatures in the region exceeded 100 degrees Monday. The survivors in the truck had no water or air conditioning and were suffering from heat stroke and heat exhaustion, San Antonio Police Chief William P. McManus said Tuesday.

John Esparza, president of the Texas Trucking Association, said federal investigators will likely find that the victims walked across the Mexico border and were picked up on the US side.

“It’s very common that these trucks are picking up on the US side but within 20 or 30 miles of the border, so you have a lot of people that are walking across the border and they’re meeting at a rendezvous point to be effectively loaded up and taken farther into Texas,” he said.

Most commercial vehicles passing the border face three levels of inspections from law enforcement and border agents consisting of X-ray scanners, devices that check temperature differences in tires, trailer imaging and other technology, Esparza said.

“That lends me to believe that it’s less likely that they were all packed inside of a truck and made it through the crossing,” he said.

US Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, told The Associated Press the truck had passed through a Border Patrol checkpoint northeast of Laredo, on Interstate 35, before it was apparently abandoned, but it wasn’t clear if the victims were in the trailer at that time .

Anthony CusumanoDeon J. Hampton and Nicole Duarte contributed

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