Suspected driver of truck packed with suffocating migrants pretended to be a victim, may have been on drugs

The suspected driver of a truckload of migrants, who died this week in the sweltering Texas heat, first tried to pose as the victim to evade authorities and may have been under the influence of narcotics during the smuggling attempt.

These are among the details that will emerge Wednesday about a man authorities say is a central figure in one of the deadliest human trafficking incidents in US history. With the deaths of two more migrants, the total death toll rose to 53.

A US official and a Mexican official identified the driver as 45-year-old Homero Zamorano, a US citizen, who was arrested Monday in a field near where the semi-trailer was found in an industrial area of ​​San Antonio.

Zamorano was arrested by San Antonio police and later hospitalized for unspecified medical treatment, according to the US official, who said the suspect initially pretended to be a migrant and appeared to be under the influence of narcotics .

Zamorano had not been charged with a crime as of Wednesday afternoon. He is one of three men arrested in connection with the tragedy.

Two Mexican nationals who were in the US illegally – Juan Francisco D’Luna-Bilbao and Juan Claudio D’Luna-Mendez – have been charged with illegal gun possession after police traced the truck’s registration to an address in San Antonio and then had monitored the house. Criminal charges were filed against them on Tuesday.

The trailer was spotted near railroad tracks Monday night after a worker heard a call for help. First responders discovered 46 dead migrants in the truck. Seven more later died.

Officials said there was no sign of water or working air conditioning in the vehicle, even as temperatures in San Antonio hovered around 100 degrees on Monday.

Smugglers often transport migrants who have already crossed the border on foot north in trunks or semi-trucks to avoid detection at the ubiquitous migrant checkpoints of south Texas.

Mexican officials and U.S. Representative Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) said the truck passed a Border Patrol checkpoint northeast of Laredo on Interstate 35 Monday. Surveillance cameras recorded the truck’s passage.

Officials said the truck was filled with 67 migrants and among the dead were 27 Mexicans, 14 Hondurans, seven Guatemalans and two people from El Salvador.

According to court records and an interview with his sister, Zamorano has a long criminal history.

Texas Department of Justice records show that he was last jailed for about 15 months in 2016 and 2017 for posting bail and failing to appear in court. Before that, he served nearly three years from 2000 for home burglary.

His sister Tomasita Medina said Zamorano was the eldest of three siblings who grew up in the border town of Brownsville, about 280 miles southeast of San Antonio.

Zamorano – whom relatives call “Homer” – was introduced to drugs around the age of 14 and then dropped out of school around the sixth grade, she said.

“That’s why we really never see him,” she said. “He always had a problem, a problem with drugs. Because of this, he is always in and out of our lives.”

She said Zamorano moved many times: from the border to East Texas, South Florida, and eventually Houston after Medina and the rest of the family settled there in 1998. Zamorano occasionally worked as a handyman, stole to fund his drug use and spent time behind bars, Medina said.

Medina last saw her brother a few months ago when he came to visit for a week to help her younger brother with the gardening. He was his normal self, “goofy” and “always joking,” she said.

Medina said she was shocked to see news on Wednesday that her brother had been arrested in connection with the tractor trailer deaths. All she could think was that he was involved because of his drug addiction.

“Maybe they offered him drugs or money for drugs,” she said. “Otherwise I don’t think he would have done it.”

Medina said the arrest was particularly painful because the family has roots in Mexico.

“I’m devastated on both sides,” she said. “It’s hard because we come from an immigrant family. My father was born in Mexico, he grew up in Mexico.”

The tragedy isn’t the first time smugglers have loaded a trailer full of migrants with deadly results.

In 2017, 10 people died after being abandoned in a trailer truck outside a San Antonio Walmart. The driver, James Matthew Bradley Jr., was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

In 2003, 19 migrants died after being abandoned in a trailer at a rest stop south of San Antonio. The driver, Tyrone Mapletoft Williams, was convicted and is serving nearly 34 years in prison.

Hennessy-Fiske reported from San Antonio, Winton from Los Angeles and Linthicum from Mexico City. Times writers Hamed Aleaziz in Healdsburg, California, and Cecilia Sánchez in Mexico City contributed to this report. Suspected driver of truck packed with suffocating migrants pretended to be a victim, may have been on drugs

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