By: Zachary Lopez (ZachNews)
Sources: United States Department of Justice, United States Attorneys Western District of Texas, San Antonio Police Department, Bexar County Sheriff’s Office and Bexar County Medical Examiner’s Office (Information)
Pictures: WOAI NBC 4 and KENS CBS 5 (Courtesy)
San Antonio, Texas: Criminal charges have been filed against 4 men after several migrants were found dead on Monday, June 28th, 2022 inside abandoned trailer of semi truck.
According to a press release late on Wednesday, June 29th, 2022 from the United States Department of Justice, Homero Zamorano Jr., 45, was arrested today on criminal charges related to his alleged involvement in alien smuggling resulting in death, in violation of Title 8, United States Code, Section 1324.
According to court documents, on June 27, 2022, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) responded to the scene of a human smuggling event involving a tractor trailer and 64 individuals suspected of entering the United States illegally. San Antonio Police Department (SAPD) officers advised HSI Agents that they arrived at the location of the tractor trailer in southwest San Antonio after receiving 911 calls from concerned citizens. At the scene, SAPD officers discovered multiple individuals some still inside the tractor trailer, some on the ground and in nearby brush, many of them deceased and some of them incapacitated. SAPD officers were led to the location of an individual, later identified as Zamorano, who was observed hiding in the brush after attempting to abscond. Zamorano was detained by SAPD officers.
Laredo Sector Border Patrol provided HSI agents surveillance footage of the tractor trailer crossing through an immigration checkpoint. The driver could be seen wearing a black shirt with stripes and a hat. HSI agents confirmed Zamorano matched the individual from the surveillance footage and was wearing the same clothing.
HSI confirmed that 48 individuals at the scene were deceased. Of those 22 were Mexican nationals, seven Guatemalan nationals, two Honduran nationals and 17 of unknown origin but suspected to be undocumented non-citizens (UNCs). HSI confirmed the undocumented status of the deceased individuals by utilizing a mobile fingerprint device. Sixteen of the 64 undocumented individuals were transported to local hospitals for medical evaluation. Five died at the hospital. Officials are working with foreign consulate offices for proper notifications to family members of the deceased.
Zamorano is charged by criminal complaint with one count of alien smuggling resulting in death. He is originally from Brownsville but resides in Pasadena, TX. If convicted, Zamorano faces up to life in prison or possibly the death penalty. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
Also charged by criminal complaint is Christian Martinez, 28, who was arrested on June 28, 2022 in Palestine. He is charged with one count of conspiracy to transport illegal aliens resulting in death. According to court documents, a search warrant was executed on a cell phone belonging to Zamorano. Through investigation, it was discovered that communications occurred between Zamorano and Martinez concerning the smuggling event. If convicted, Martinez faces up to life in prison or could face the death penalty. Martinez had an initial appearance today in Tyler. He will be transported to San Antonio for further proceedings.
In addition to arrests of Zamorano and Martinez, Juan Claudio D’Luna-Mendez, 23, and Juan Francisco D’Luna-Bilbao, 48, both citizens of Mexico, were arrested and had initial appearances on June 27, 2022. According to court documents, the registration for the tractor trailer used in the attempted alien smuggling event came back to a residence in San Antonio. SAPD officers set up surveillance on the residence and observed two males leaving in separate trucks. After traffic stops on both trucks, the drivers were identified as D’Luna-Mendez and D’Luna-Bilbao. D’Luna-Bilboa was in possession of a handgun that was found in the center console of the truck he was driving. A search warrant was executed at the residence where additional firearms were located. Both individuals were determined to be in the U.S. illegally and were charged by criminal complaint with one count of possession of a weapon by an alien illegally in the U.S. in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 922(g)(5). If convicted, both defendants face up to 10 years in prison.
U.S. Attorney Ashley C. Hoff of the Western District of Texas; Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Acting Special Agent in Charge Craig Larrabee, San Antonio Division; and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) Special Agent in Charge Fred J. Milanowski, Houston Division, made the announcement.
The HSI and ATF, with valuable assistance from the San Antonio Police Department and the Palestine Police Department, are investigating the case.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Amanda Brown, Matthew Lathrop and Sarah Spears are prosecuting the case.
A criminal complaint is merely an allegation, and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.
*** United States Department of Justice Press Release: ***
Authorities said 67 people packed into that trailer, and 53 of those people died at the scene or in hospitals well several others people remain hospitalized.
The Bexar County Medical Examiner’s Office said it potentially identified 37 of those victims, which includes 40 male and 13 female.
Following following the deaths of 53 migrants, United States President Joe Biden said in a statement, “The tragic loss of life in San Antonio, Texas that took place yesterday is horrifying and heartbreaking. Our prayers are with those who lost their lives, their loved ones, as well as those still fighting for their lives. As always, I am grateful for the swift work of all of the Federal, state, and local first responders. While we are still learning all the facts about what happened and the Department of Homeland Security has the lead for the investigation, initial reports are that this tragedy was caused by smugglers or human traffickers who have no regard for the lives they endanger and exploit to make a profit. This incident underscores the need to go after the multi-billion dollar criminal smuggling industry preying on migrants and leading to far too many innocent deaths. In Los Angeles two weeks ago, I announced that the United States has launched a first-of-its kind anti-smuggling campaign with our regional partners. In the first three months, we have made over 2,400 arrests, and that work will only intensify in the months ahead. Exploiting vulnerable individuals for profit is shameful, as is political grandstanding around tragedy, and my Administration will continue to do everything possible to stop human smugglers and traffickers from taking advantage of people who are seeking to enter the United States between ports of entry.”
Earlier this week, Bexar County Sheriff’s Office’s Javier Salazar has requested meetings with federal authorities, including United States President Joe Biden, following the deaths of 53 migrants.
In his letter, Sheriff Javier Salazar said, “Dear President Biden, I am reaching out to you for a third time and requesting assistance. As a first responder, we are trained to remove emotions from our decisions and actions, to the extent possible. With that being said, as I write this, over 50 likely undocumented immigrants are dead in my county with several others hospitalized, due to the actions of those who would profit off of the misery of smuggling victims. Among those hospitalized are children who most likely had no say in where they are, how they got here, or what they witnessed as those around them died a horrible death. I’m angry, Mr. President. I’m angry that I could not stop this massive loss of life in my county. I’m angry that, despite my best efforts to appeal to your administration, I have not received a response. I’m disappointed that a perceived lack of action on the part of the US government has allowed the governor of my state to use this issue as one big campaign stunt. I have watched as Governor Greg Abbott has painted this humanitarian crisis as some sort of enemy invasion. Governor Abbott has wasted excessive assets and personnel on an ineffective farce of an effort. I know it’s ineffective, because my deputies and surrounding county sheriffs deal with the aftermath every single day in the form of vehicle pursuits and even rescue operations with dozens of victims at a time. Abbott has jailed countless immigrants on worthless charges that have only served to clog an already over-taxed state prison system, which has had a trickledown effect on overcrowded local jails. Mr. President, I am slowly watching your support from Texas law enforcement be eroded by a perceived lack of action. I believe that this can be corrected and I welcome the opportunity to assist.
ZachNews and the people in the Colorado River Tri-State area sends our thoughts, prayers and condolences to the families and friends of the people who were found died.