Truck driver charged as death toll rises to 10 in Texas human smuggling case

U.S. federal authorities say a 10th person has died after dozens were discovered in the back of a tractor-trailer in San Antonio, Texas. Police have charged the truck's driver in what they're calling a case of human smuggling.

James Bradley Jr. charged after several perish in tractor-trailer parked at a Walmart

James Mathew Bradley Jr., left, arrives at the federal courthouse for a hearing Monday in San Antonio. Bradley was arrested in connection with the deaths of multiple people packed into an overheated tractor-trailer. (Eric Gay/Associated Press)

A truck driver from Florida was charged Monday, accused in a suspected human smuggling operation in which 10 people died and dozens more were hospitalized in Texas after being trapped inside a tractor-trailer in sweltering heat.

James Mathew Bradley Jr., 60, was arrested on Sunday after authorities found eight men dead in the back of his truck parked outside a Walmart supermarket in San Antonio. Two more victims died later at hospitals, officials said.

Bradley Jr. from Clearwater was charged with knowingly transporting illegal aliens "for the purpose of commercial advantage or private financial gain." He could face the death penalty or life in prison if convicted.

A federal criminal complaint said the driver told investigators that he was unaware that there were people inside until he parked and got out to urinate.

The complaint says Bradley told investigators the trailer had been sold and he was transporting it from Iowa to Brownsville, Texas. He allegedly said that he opened the door after hearing banging and shaking and was "surprised when he was run over by 'Spanish' people and knocked to the ground."

The complaint says he did not call 911, even though he realized that several people already were dead.

On Sunday, officials tow a truck that was found in a Walmart parking lot with eight dead inside in San Antonio, Texas. Around 30 people were found alive inside the truck, but one of them later died in hospital. (Darren Abate/EPA)

Another 30 people, many in critical condition suffering from heat stroke and exhaustion, were rescued from the truck, which lacked air conditioning and drinking water, San Antonio Fire Chief Charles Hood said.

Outside temperatures topped 37.8 Celsius on Sunday. San Antonio Police Chief William McManus said the people in the truck, whose nationalities were not immediately known, ranged from school-age children to adults in their 30s.

"All were victims of ruthless human smugglers indifferent to the well-being of their fragile cargo," Richard Durbin Jr., U.S. attorney for the Western District of Texas, said in a statement.

"These people were helpless in the hands of their transporters. Imagine their suffering, trapped in a stifling trailer."

San Antonio is about 240 km north of the U.S.-Mexico border.

Eight bodies were initially discovered after officials were led to the tractor-trailer by a man who asked a Walmart employee for water.

The parking lot of a Walmart, where the truck trailer was found, is seen on Sunday. A Walmart employee alerted police. (Suzanne Cordeiro/AFP/Getty Images)

Other suspects fled the scene as police arrived on Sunday, McManus said.

Mexico's government has asked the authorities for an exhaustive investigation, adding that its consul general in San Antonio was working to identify the victims' nationalities.

Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick expressed sympathy for the victims' families.

"I have been saying for years no one should have to die to come to America," Patrick, a Republican, said.

"We need a secure border and legal immigration reform so we control who enters our country and they can come here in dignity."

U.S. President Donald Trump has vowed to crack down on immigrants living in the country illegally. In Texas alone, federal immigration agents arrested 123 illegal immigrants with criminal records in an eight-day operation ending last week.

A San Antonio police officer clears crime scene barrier tape on Sunday near where the truck was found. (Darren Abate/EPA)

The San Antonio deaths come more than a decade after what is considered the worst immigrant smuggling case in U.S. history when 70 people were found in an 18-wheeler truck. Nineteen people died in the incident in Victoria, Texas, about 160 km southeast of San Antonio, in May 2003.

The U.S. Border Patrol has regularly reported finding suspected immigrants in trucks along the U.S. border with Mexico.

This month, 72 people from Latin America were found in a trailer in Laredo. In June, 44 people were found in the back of a vehicle in the same Texas city, which lies directly across the Rio Grande from Mexico.