Truck Driver Charged in Human Trafficking Tragedy

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on July 25, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Eight people were found dead in the back of a tractor trailer parked at a San Antonio Walmart last weekend, and two more died after being hospitalized. Now the driver of the truck is being charged with illegally transporting immigrants, a crime that, due to the fatalities involved, could earn him a life sentence or even the death penalty.

Almost 40 other passengers had to be treated for heat-related illnesses or injury at local hospitals after approximately 12 hours in the un-air conditioned, unventilated trailer.

Human Tragedy

"During the first hour of transportation, everyone seemed to be OK," a Homeland Security agent wrote in the criminal complaint against 60-year-old James Bradley. "Later, people started having trouble breathing and some started to pass out. People began hitting the trailer walls and making noise to get the driver's attention. The driver never stopped."

The immigrants were allegedly told the trailer would be refrigerated, but one told agents the tractor-trailer was hot as soon as the group got inside in Laredo. According to the complaint, the passengers were forced to take turns breathing through a hole in the trailer wall to avoid passing out. Bradley contends he had no knowledge of his human cargo, though he admitted that he knew the trailer refrigeration system didn't work and that the four vent holes were probably clogged up.

Trafficking Charges

What happened on arrival at the Walmart is unclear. Bradley told officers that he didn't know that he was transporting people until he stopped for a bathroom break and heard "banging and shaking in the trailer." He said he was run over by 'Spanish' people and knocked to the ground when he finally opened the doors, and saw "bodies just lying on the floor like meat."

While Bradley said 30-40 people ran from the trailer and claims there were no other vehicles in the parking lot, at least one immigrant said there were around 70 others in the trailer and six black SUVs parked near the truck that took away some of the immigrants.

Federal law allows for the death penalty or life in prison if human trafficking results in death. The ABA Journal reports that a truck driver convicted in the deaths of 19 people in 2003 received 34 years in prison.

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