(CNN) — The suspected driver of a tractor-trailer in which sweltering conditions killed 53 migrants this week in San Antonio was unaware that the truck’s air conditioning unit had stopped working, according to a federal criminal complaint filed Thursday. Wednesday in the investigation of the deadliest human trafficking case in US history.
The driver’s recognition was disclosed to a federal informant by an alleged co-conspirator in the case, according to the complaint.
The alleged co-conspirator, Christian Martinez, had been in contact by cell phone about the apparent human smuggling scheme with the truck driver, Homero Zamorano Jr., the Justice Department said.
The men were exchanging photos, including one of a “truckload manifest,” and discussing whether the driver should go to the “same place,” the complaint says, adding that Martinez sent GPS coordinates to a location in Laredo, Texas. .
Martinez “initiated a conversation about the deaths of several people inside a trailer” and admitted to being involved, according to the complaint, citing information shared by a confidential informant in communication with Martinez, who was already the subject of a Security Investigations investigation. National.
Martinez said the truck driver was unaware that the air conditioning unit had stopped working, the informant told investigators, according to the complaint.
The discovery of the truck came as US federal authorities launched what they described as an “unprecedented” operation to disrupt people smuggling networks in the middle of a influx of immigrants on the border between the United States and Mexico. More than a dozen were rescued alive from inside the vehicle, and many were hospitalized for heat-related ailments; 48 people were initially found dead; five have since died.
Among the survivors, two were in critical condition Friday, one in serious condition and one in fair condition, officials at University Hospital of San Antonio and Metropolitan Methodist Hospital said. Six more migrants from the truck had been undergoing treatment Tuesday at Baptist Medical Center in San Antonio and CHRISTUS Health’s Children’s Hospital of San Antonio and its Santa Rosa Hospital.
Martinez, 28, and Zamorano, 45, have been arrested and charged with crimes that carry the death penalty as a possible punishment. CNN has reached out to Martinez’s attorney for comment, while Zamorano’s attorney declined to comment. Two others have also been arrested and charged in the case.
The refrigerator trailer had no visible working air conditioning unit, and there was no sign of water inside, the San Antonio fire chief said, adding that it was not immediately clear how long the people had been dead. inside the truck. High temperatures Monday in the San Antonio area ranged from 90 degrees to 100 degrees Fahrenheit (32 to 7 degrees Celsius).
“None of these people were able to get out of the truck,” said Fire Chief Charles Hood. “So, they were still there, waiting for help, when we arrived… which means they were too weak, in a weakened state, to go out and help themselves.”
The case is “the worst human trafficking event in America,” said Craig Larrabee, acting special agent in charge of San Antonio Homeland Security Investigations.
“In the past, smuggling organizations were family-owned,” Larrabee told CNN. “Now, they are organized and linked to the cartels. So, you have a criminal organization that does not take into account the safety of migrants. They are treated like commodities rather than people.”
With information from CNN’s Carolyn Sung and Rebekah Riess