Deaths in tractor trailer linked to massive smuggling ring

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The driver accused of transporting dozens of immigrants inside a cramped and sweltering tractor trailer – leading to 10 of their deaths – is part of a larger human-smuggling ring, investigators said Wednesday.

Authorities are now working to identify and dismantle the organization, according to a US immigration official.

“We’re certainly not stopping at looking at the driver. We’re trying to investigate and identify the different cogs, the stash houses, the other members, where the money came from,” said Shane Folden, special agent in charge of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations office in San Antonio.

Some of the 29 survivors said they hired smugglers who brought them across the US border, loaded them onto trucks that took them to the tractor trailer. They were marked with different colored tape so that smugglers could identify them after the 18-wheeler reached its destination.

Folden said the driver, James Matthew Bradley Jr., is just one piece of a larger puzzle.

“The ultimate goal is to dismantle the complete organization. You don’t get there by only focusing on one aspect. You have to look at potential targets and potential related locations, both north and south,” he said.

Bradley, 60, of Clearwater, Florida, could face the death penalty on federal charges of illegally transporting immigrants for financial gain, resulting in death.

He was busted early Sunday morning after parking his tractor trailer at a Walmart in San Antonio for a bathroom break.

A tractor-trailer is pulled from the scene where police investigate where eight people were found dead in the trailer.AP

Bradley claimed he only learned he was hauling migrants after hearing banging from within the big rig and opening the door.

He said he saw bodies – including eight that were already dead — sprawled out across the dark, stifling trailer, where the temperature reached over 100 degrees, “just lying on the floor like meat.”

Authorities are working to determine just how many people were inside the truck because some fled before police arrive, Folden said.

Two people later died at a hospital. Thirteen people remained hospitalized in San Antonio.

Some of the survivors – who’ve told authorities they took turns breathing out of a single hole in the trailer wall – will likely become witnesses and could be allowed to remain in the US to testify, Folden said.

Bradley had been repeatedly cited for violating federal motor carrier safety regulations in Iowa. At least two of the tickets were for logging more hours than allowed.

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