Truck driver suspected of Texas deaths used methamphetamine, lawmaker says

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The alleged driver of a truck washing dozens of immigrants who died in scorching heat during a smuggling attempt in Texas, United States, was allegedly under the influence of methamphetamine when police found him, a lawmaker told Reuters.

San Antonio police officers found Homero Zamorano Jr hiding in brushwood near the abandoned truck on Monday, according to documents filed in federal court on Thursday. Fifty-three people died, making it the biggest traffic accident in the United States.

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US Representative Henry Cuellar, a Democrat whose district includes eastern San Antonio, said Zamorano had methamphetamine, a powerful synthetic drug, in his system.

Cuellar explained that he was informed about the matter by US Customs and Border Protection (CBP), but did not know how the authorities made that determination.

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A CBP official, speaking on condition of anonymity, also shared with Reuters that Zamorano had methamphetamine in his body.

Reuters was unable to independently confirm reports of alleged drug use.

Zamorano was due to appear in federal court in San Antonio at 1:30 pm local time. If convicted, he will face a life sentence or possibly the death penalty, according to the US Department of Justice.

Authorities described finding the trailer’s rear door ajar with bodies piled inside that were hot to the touch.

Outside the vehicle, officers discovered other victims, some already dead. They found Zamorano hiding near the victims and escorted him to a local hospital for medical evaluation, prosecutors said. Mexican authorities said he tried to impersonate one of the survivors.

It was not immediately clear which hospital had evaluated Zamorano or who would represent him in court. Reuters was unable to immediately reach Zamorano.

The truck was carrying migrants from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador and was found in a desolate industrial area near a highway outside San Antonio, Texas, about 260 kilometers north of the US-Mexico border.

Temperatures in the area that day reached 39.4C, and authorities called to the scene found no water supplies or signs of air conditioning working inside the cargo hold.

Mexicans accounted for about half of those who died. Eleven people – including minors – remain hospitalized. In addition to 27 Mexicans, the victims include 14 Hondurans, seven Guatemalans and two Salvadorans, the Mexican government said.

Among the dead were two teenagers aged 13 and 14 from a Quiche-speaking town in southwestern Guatemala, the Guatemalan government said. A community leader identified them as Pascual Melvin Guachiac and Juan Wilmer Tulul.

The two were cousins ​​who left home two weeks ago to escape poverty, Guachiac’s mother said, according to Guatemalan media. The boys told the family on Monday that they were heading to San Antonio, local media reported.

The nationalities of another 17 of the migrants in the truck remain unclear, prosecutors explained. Most of the victims were male, with 13 women among the dead, the Bexar County coroner’s office said.

Authorities believe the migrants boarded the truck on the US side of the border with Mexico.

Surveillance photographs captured the truck passing a border checkpoint in Laredo, Texas, at 2:50 pm on Monday, before passengers had boarded.

The tractor-trailer passed a CBP checkpoint across the border within the United States at Encinal, 65 kilometers north of Laredo, with its human cargo apparently passing unnoticed before passing a surveillance camera at Cotulla, 30 miles[30 km]further north, according to information provided by Mexican officials.

Cuellar, the Texas legislator, said the immigrants likely crossed the border and went to a “hidden house” before being picked up by the truck and passing through the Encinal checkpoint.

They likely got into San Antonio and had mechanical problems that left them in the back of the truck without air conditioning or ventilation, Cuellar surmises.

Prosecutors also accused 28-year-old Christian Martinez of conspiring with Zamorano and charged him with human trafficking. He made an initial appearance in a courtroom in the Eastern District of Texas on Wednesday (29).

Two other men suspected of involvement in the incident, both Mexican nationals, were charged Tuesday in US federal court with possession of firearms while residing illegally in the country. A preliminary hearing for the duo is scheduled for Friday (1st).

Source: CNN Brasil

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