Driver of semi containing dead immigrants faces more charges

August 17, 2017

The driver of a semi that had 39 immigrants trapped in its sweltering trailer, killing 10 of them, is facing more charges, the Express-News confirmed Wednesday.

Prosecutors added more counts to the case against James Matthew Bradley Jr., 61, of Florida. Among them are charges that he conspired with unknown persons to transport undocumented immigrants for financial gain, resulting in death, and transporting immigrants resulting in death or serious bodily injury.

The exact number of charges wasn’t available because the indictment was handed up late Wednesday and not publicly available.

He could face up to life in prison if convicted, or even the death penalty if local federal prosecutors make that recommendation to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and he signs off on that prosecution.

The tractor-trailer was parked near a Walmart store on the Southwest Side the night of July 22 and early morning of July 23 when store employees called police upon seeing several of the immigrants emerge from the refrigerated trailer. When San Antonio police and firefighters arrived, they found the load of 39, with eight of the immigrants dead at the scene. Court records said the trailer’s cooling system wasn’t working.

The survivors were taken to local hospitals, and two more later died.

Some of the survivors told officials they had been smuggled from Mexico, were picked up in Laredo and that there had been more than 100 immigrants in the trailer at one point. Court records said some of the immigrants had fled by the time police arrived, or were picked up by sport utility vehicles.

The records said some survivors described desperately pounding on the trailer’s walls as the heat overcame them. They also took turns taking gasps of air through a small hole in the trailer.

Bradley has told investigators he did not know the immigrants were in the trailer until he stopped at the Walmart to use the bathroom and was overrun by immigrants when he opened the doors.

Since then, 26 of the victims — 22 adults and four teens — have been released from the hospitals. The adults were sent to U.S. Marshals custody, where they are being held as material witnesses, while the juveniles were sent to the supervision of immigration officials.

Two remained in the hospital Wednesday.

Four of the material witnesses testified before the grand jury, accompanied by their court-appointed lawyer, Mike McCrum.

“My clients were nervous,” McCrum said upon leaving. “This is not a pleasant experience for them, but they know it’s part of the justice system. They have concerns for themselves or their families, but they’re doing everything possible so this won’t happen to anyone else.

“They just wanted to work,” McCrum added. “Their families wanted them to work to help pay for living expenses.”

Bradley was an owner-operator, but was working with Pyle Transportation of Iowa at the time. Company officials have said he was supposed to deliver the trailer to a buyer in Brownsville, and was not supposed to be in Laredo or hauling any cargo.

Florida had suspended Bradley’s commercial driving license in April after Bradley, who has diabetes and a series of amputations, failed to provide the state with a current medical card. Federal law requires commercial drivers to submit such a card to show they are fit for the road. Because of that suspension, he was also barred from driving commercial anywhere in the U.S., officials have said.

Of those who died after being locked in the trailer, eight were from Mexico and one was from Guatemala. The 10th victim has not been identified, an official with Mexico’s Consulate General in San Antonio said Wednesday.

A spokesperson for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said Wednesday the minors had been turned over to the Office of Refugee Resettlement.

No one else has been charged.

Staff writer Jason Buch contributed to this story.