More Arrests Made In Deadly Smuggling Operation
HOUSTON - Authorities have made more arrests in their investigation of a smuggling operation that packed dozens of illegal immigrants into a sweltering trailer last week, resulting in the deaths of 19 individuals, federal prosecutors said Monday.
No other details were immediately available but officials planned to hold a news conference Monday afternoon.
The driver of the truck, Tyrone Williams, 32, of Schenectady, N.Y., was arrested last Wednesday in Houston, hours after 17 people were found dead in and around a trailer parked at a truck stop near Victoria, more than 100 miles southeast of Houston. Two people later died after being hospitalized. The trailer had been packed with between 70 and 100 men, women and children from Mexico and Central America.
"We have been remarkably successful (in the investigation) based on good policework and information provided by the surviving victims of this," Michael Shelby, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Texas, told Houston television station KRIV Monday morning.
Investigators believe the smuggling operation is part of a larger organization.
Shelby credited assistance by Mexican consul general Eduardo Ibarrola for helping convince the 49 surviving immigrants to cooperate by giving information about the dead and those who assembled the group in South Texas and arranged for the truck trip.
Court documents say Williams told authorities two men paid him $2,500 to transport 16 illegal immigrants from the Mexican border near Harlingen in far South Texas. He claimed he didn't watch as they were loaded into his trailer Tuesday night. He also told authorities that after pulling over in Victoria and opening the doors and discovering the dead and dying immigrants, he unhitched the trailer and drove to Houston.
According to an affidavit by a federal immigration agent, Williams at first claimed he was hauling an empty trailer but later changed his story. His attorney, former Houston congressman Craig Washington, said last week he was looking into whether Williams was properly advised of his rights and why he was questioned in a cold room without anything to offer him warmth.
Williams was charged last week with conspiracy to smuggle, transport and conceal illegal immigrants. He was scheduled to appear at a bond and detention hearing before a U.S. magistrate in Houston Tuesday morning.
The surviving immigrants are in the custody of the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and are helping authorities with the investigation. Five survivors remained hospitalized in Victoria.
Initial autopsy reports show the immigrants who died succumbed to dehydration, hyperthermia and suffocation.
Authorities said an additional 30 to 50 survivors were believed to have fled the trailer.