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The Texas truck driver who is accused of driving the vehicle in which 53 migrants died from heat-related injuries hid in bushes and attempted to pass himself off as a victim, an official has said.
Homero Zamorano Jr., 45, appeared in court on Thursday, 30 June, where he was charged with smuggling undocumented migrants resulting in death. If convicted he faces a lifetime prison sentence or the death penalty.
Christian Martinez, 28, has also been charged by federal prosecutors with one count of conspiracy to transport illegal aliens resulting in death.
According to court documents, San Antonio police officers found Zamorano hiding in bushes near the tractor-trailer on Monday.
Officials said they found the trailer’s rear-door open, with bodies stacked up inside, while more victims were found in the nearby grassy area.
Police found Zamorano hiding near some of the victims’ bodies and was escorted to hospital.
Francisco Garduno, head of Mexico's National Migration Institute said had ‘tried to pass himself off as one of the survivors’ prior to his arrest. It’s also been claimed Zamorano had meth in his system at the time of his arrest.
US Representative Henry Cuellar told Reuters US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) told him Zamorano was under the influence of the powerful drug when he was found by police.
Zamarano’s brother-in-law told The Texas Tribune: “His life is really separate from ours.
“I have no idea how he got involved in that. He would get lost for years and would come around occasionally. He basically raised himself.”
The truck was carrying migrants from several countries including Mexico and Guatemala. It was found in a desolate area near to the US-Mexico border.
Although temperatures hit as high as 39.4ºC that day, officials found no sign of water supplies or a functioning air conditioning unit inside the trailer, the Mirror reported.
Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Chris Magnus released a statement on the incident, calling it a 'tragic loss of life'.
He said: "This speaks to the desperation of migrants who would put their lives in the hands of callous human smugglers who show no regard for human life.
"We will be working with our federal, state and local partners to assist in every way possible with this investigation."
San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg said: “This is nothing short of a horrific human tragedy.”
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