The Texas man accused of masterminding the botched smuggling run where 53 people died of excessive heat in a crammed tractor trailer told a confidential government informant the driver had no idea the air conditioning had stopped working.
Texas federal court filings also show Christian Martinez, 28, sent a series of frantic texts on Monday to the alleged driver, Homero Zamorano, 45, shortly after the sweltering 18-wheeler went off the radar in the deadliest smuggling incident in U.S. history.
“Where you at bro?” Martinez texted at 1:40 p.m., court papers said. He then fired off at least three other messages less than two hours later without receiving a reply, including “Call me bro.”
He sent a final text around 6:15 p.m., but by then, Zamorano was hiding in bushes while authorities pulled dozens of dead bodies from the tractor trailer he’d just driven up Interstate 35 and abandoned on a San Antonio street, the Washington Post reported.
He was also high on methamphetamine, officials later said.
The court filings also say a government informant, who was working the feds and Texas police, confirmed Martinez and Zamorano spoke to each other after the tragedy was discovered.
Martinez, according to the informant, allegedly said: “The driver was unaware the air conditioning unit stopped working and was the reason why the individuals died,” according to the BBC News.
The tractor-trailer carrying the migrants had no signs of water and no working AC or refrigeration as temperatures climbed to 103 degrees in San Antonio Monday. The victims were hot to the touch and suffered from heatstroke and dehydration inside the truck, where temperatures climbed above 115 degrees, according to first responders.
Both Martinez and Zamorano are facing charges of immigrant smuggling resulting in death, which carries a maximum penalty of life in prison or the death penalty. Two others are also facing criminal charges.
The victims were from Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.
They included a college-educated Honduran couple, Alejandro Miguel Andino Caballero and his fiancé Margie Támara Paz Grajeda. With the pandemic and two major hurricanes only dampening economic prospects in the economically depressed nation, they set out for the United States in hope of a better future, according to the Los Angeles Times.