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Suspect to appear in court in San Antonio migrant smuggling case that killed 53

National Institute Of Migration

(NEW YORK) — One of four men facing federal charges in connection with an alleged smuggling incident that left 53 people dead after they were trapped in a tractor-trailer is due in court Thursday.

Homero Zamorano Jr., 45, of Pasadena, Texas is charged with one count of alien smuggling resulting in death. He is suspected of being the driver of the truck that was found in San Antonio on Monday.

Zamorano could face up to life in prison or the death penalty.

Investigators say Zamorano was apprehended at the scene after trying to pass himself off as one of the migrants. Police were able to recover a phone, a hat and a wallet that contained an ID belonging to Zamorano, court documents show.

Using surveillance footage from the truck’s immigration checkpoint border crossing, officials from Homeland Security Investigations say they were able to determine that Zamorano was the driver. The driver was seen in surveillance footage wearing a black shirt with white or grey stripes and a hat. HSI officials say they verified Zamorano was wearing the same clothing.

Zamorano was taken to a local hospital for a medical evaluation after he was apprehended.

According to court documents, responding HSI agents initially found 48 people dead inside and around the tractor-trailer. Of those found dead, authorities say 22 were from Mexico, seven from Guatemala, two from Honduras and 17 of unknown origins, who officials suspect are undocumented.

Officials said 16 people were hospitalized.

According to court documents, there were 64 individuals suspected of being in the country illegally in connection to this alleged smuggling incident.

Of the 53 bodies in the custody of the medical examiner’s office, 40 are male and 13 are female, the Bexar County Medical Examiner’s Office said Wednesday.

Rebeca Clay-Flores, the Bexar County Precinct 1 commissioner, said at a press conference Tuesday that some of those found are under the age of 18, likely teenagers.

Clay-Flores, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff and representatives from the county medical examiner’s office met with Guatemalan Minister of Foreign Affairs Mario Búcaro, three Guatemalan consuls, representatives from the Embassy of Mexico and Consul General of El Salvador Fátima Margarita Flores on Wednesday, the medical examiner’s office said Thursday.

The medical examiner’s office said they would release information on the number and nationality of confirmed identities as they become available. Names and identifying information will not be released until their foreign country’s consulate or embassy confirms their next of kin has been notified.

On Tuesday, police arrested Christian Martinez, 28, in Palestine, Texas, alleging he was in contact with Zamorano about the alleged smuggling operation.

Two other men, Juan Claudio D’Luna-Mendez and Juan Francisco D’Luna-Bilbao, were arrested in connection with the truck deaths on gun charges. They were identified as unauthorized migrants in possession of multiple weapons, according to federal authorities.

The incident unfolded in the southern Texas city on Monday evening at around 5:50 p.m. local time, when a nearby worker heard a cry for help and found the tractor-trailer with the doors partially opened and the bodies of 46 people inside, according to San Antonio Police Chief Bill McManus and San Antonio Fire Department Chief Charles Hood.

“They suffered, horrendously, could have been for hours,” Hood said.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

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