Driver charged in human smuggling case says he had 'no idea' what was in truck

SAN ANTONIO, Texas (KTRK) -- They were promised a better life in the United States. Instead, at least 10 people got here only to lose their lives.

New details reveal a harrowing ordeal for those smuggled inside a trailer discovered in San Antonio and subjected to the unrelenting Texas heat.

James Matthew Bradley Jr., 60, faces a federal smuggling charge in relation to the 10 people who died. He showed little emotion as he appeared for the first time in court. According to the criminal complaint, Bradley told police the trailer he was hauling had been sold and he was "unaware" of its contents. He said he stopped at the Walmart off of I-35 in San Antonio and exited the vehicle to relieve himself when he heard "banging and shaking" in the trailer.

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What the driver claimed happened in the immigrant smuggling attempt gone wrong

He opened the doors and was "surprised" when he was "run over by Spanish people and knocked to the ground." Bradley said he then noticed bodies just lying on the floor in the trailer "like meat." Bradley claimed he tried to help those inside and admitted he did not call 911.

In fact, authorities say he said he first called his wife, but she did not answer.

One of the survivors told investigators he and 28 others cross the Rio Grande in a raft, with the help of the Zetas cartel after paying them over $12,000 pesos each. He said he was to pay another $5,500 to smugglers upon arrival in San Antonio. He told investigators his group had been stuffed into the trailer in Laredo with at least 70 others already inside. Another survivor estimated the total number eventually to be as high as 200.

Survivors described the trailer as "pitch black" and "already hot." They were told that they would be in that trailer over 15 hours, documents stated.

Survivors told authorities people began passing out, hitting trailer walls and making noise to get the driver's attention.

They said the driver never stopped.

There was a small hole where some found fresh air. Inside the trailer, survivors took turns breathing from the hole.

Bradley could now face life in prison or the death penalty, if convicted. He is scheduled to be back in court on July 27 where a judge will decide if he should remain in custody until the case is resolved.

His court-appointed federal defense attorney, Alfredo Villarreal, did not respond to calls for comment.

The death toll from this tragedy is now at 10. That number includes one of the 17 who authorities said suffered life-threatening injuries. Investigators said previously that two of the surviving victims were just 15 years old. Two others told authorities they were from Guatemala and were headed to Houston.

It was just the latest smuggling-by-truck operation to end in tragedy. In one of the worst cases on record in the U.S., 19 immigrants locked inside a stifling rig died in Victoria, Texas, in 2003.
The U.S. Homeland Security Department stepped in to take the lead in the investigation from San Antonio police. Department Secretary John Kelly said the incident demonstrates the brutality of smuggling organizations that "have no regard for human life and seek only profits."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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