Around 12 a.m. on Sunday, a man walked up to an employee outside of a San Antonio, Texas, Walmart asking for water.
His simple request led to a chain of events that uncovered a “horrific” case of human smuggling.Screenshot/NBC News
As the Associated Press reported, 60-year-old James Matthew Bradley Jr. from Clearwater, Florida, is facing charges for illegally transporting immigrants for financial gain, resulting in death.
Bradley reportedly told authorities that the tractor trailer had been sold, and he was driving it for his boss from Iowa to Brownsville, Texas. The driver maintains he was unaware anyone was in the back of the truck until he got out to relieve himself.
Bradley allegedly heard “banging and shaking” coming from the back of the truck once it was outside the Walmart. When he opened the door, he was knocked to the ground by dozens of people rushing to escape.
According to NBC News, a spokesman for the San Antonio Fire Department, Joe Arrington, said that Walmart security was alerted to people in the truck by the man who had approached asking for water. When the security guard went to investigate, he made the grim discovery.
Inside, eight people lay dead. More than 30 people had been locked in the trailer in the San Antonio heat in which temperatures were reportedly higher than 100 degrees that day.
Up to 100 people had been in there at once, and of the remaining passengers that were discovered, more than two dozen were taken to local hospitals, many with life-threatening injuries, the San Antonio Express-News reported.
San Antonio Police Chief William McManus told reporters that security footage from the day showed numerous vehicles arriving to pick up individuals from the 18-wheeler.
Ten people in total have passed away and are believed to have died as a result of heat exposure and asphyxiation; however, an official cause of death is still pending. None of their names or nationalities have been released by U.S. authorities.
According to details from the investigation, federal prosecutors described the trailer as devoid of any light and so hot and airless that passengers had to take turns breathing out of a hole in the side of the truck.
Bradley allegedly admitted the cooling unit on the truck was malfunctioning and that four ventilation holes were clogged.
The truck, which had an Iowa license plate, was registered to Pyle Transportation Inc. in Schaller, Iowa.
The San Antonio Express-News reported that representatives of the company, Mike Pyle and Tom Kolpin, stated that Bradley is authorized to transport goods under the Pyle name, however, he is an owner-operator who owns his own semi:
“It’s our trailer, but it’s his truck.”
Company President Brian Pyle explained that the truck had been sold to a man in Mexico months earlier and that Bradley was working as an independent contractor and was supposed to deliver the truck to Brownsville:
“I’m absolutely sorry it happened. I really am. It’s shocking. I’m sorry my name was on it.”
Following Bradley’s arrest, his fiancé, Darnisha Rose, is speaking out on his behalf.
According to the Associated Press, the Louisville, Kentucky, woman claimed Bradley told her he had no idea how the immigrants ended up in his truck.
He allegedly did not hear any noise until he returned from his bathroom break and saw the trailer shaking. Rose said that after opening the door, he didn’t know what to do:
“He said he saw the people in there, laying everywhere. […] He said he didn’t know what to do, which way to go. He was crying, distraught. He was scared. You could tell it in his voice.”
Rose explained her fiancé did not suggest how the immigrants might have ended up there. Court documents further reveal that Bradley did not immediately call 911; instead he called Rose, who did not answer.
Rose described Bradley as a good man who always tries to help people in need. The couple was living together in Louisville following Bradley’s leg amputation, a result of complications from diabetes.
She expected that he would be gone for about two weeks on his current trip.
According to CNN, Bradley is currently in custody and the terms of his detention and bail will be brought before the court on July 27. He faces up to life in prison or the death penalty if convicted of his charges.