By Keri Blakinger, Houston Chronicle
The gruesome discovery of eight dead immigrants in a trailer in San Antonio is the latest addition to a growing list of human trafficking deaths in a state plagued by such tragedies.
Although another victim died later at the hospital, Sunday’s first eight victims are believed to have died of asphyxiation in the trailer parked outside a Walmart. But in years past, chases and car wrecks have also accounted for some of the Lone Star State’s trafficking and smuggling disasters.
“Anytime you treat humans like property or cargo it’s barbaric.”
One of the region’s most infamous trafficking tragedies bears eerie similarities to Saturday’s incident. In 2003, 19 people died after a truck driver abandoned a milk trailer full of dozens of immigrants outside a truck stop near Victoria.
The victims – including small children – suffocated after the driver ignored their frantic banging in a catastrophe described in the New York Times as “the nation’s deadliest human trafficking case.”
Three years later, a federal jury found the truck’s driver, Tyrone Williams, guilty on 58 charges relating to the crime. In 2011, a judge resentenced him to nearly 34 years behind bars.
In 2012, an extended cab pickup truck carrying 23 people crashed along U.S. 59, leaving at least 14 people dead near the South Texas town of Goliad. Afterward, authorities struggled to identify the victims, believed to be from Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala.
The men, women and children packed in the truck and its cab were carrying toothbrushes and underwear but no identification.
The crash – less than an hour from the site of the Victoria wreck nine years earlier – came after the driver’s Ford F-250 veered off the highway and rammed into trees about 150 miles northeast of the border.
Three months earlier, nine Mexican immigrants died near the border after their van crashed as they fled pursuing Border Patrol agents. The minivan was crammed with 18 people in a shocking example of a common tactic smugglers use to ramp up profit margins with dangerously crowded vehicles.
In 2013, another deadly pursuit left at least seven immigrants dead after a pickup truck carrying 15 people crashed into a security barrier at the Naval Air Station in Kingsville. Emergency crews had to use hydraulic rescue tools to extricate victims from the mangled wreckage.
Two years later, six died after a police chase on U.S. 59 ended in a horrific crash in the tiny town of Edna. Two injured survivors among the 14 crammed into the speeding Ford Explorer tried to flee the wreckage but were soon captured by authorities.
U.S. 59 – along with U.S. 281 and U.S. 77 – are major human smuggling routes, according to a Houston High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area report. For many, the final destination is Houston.
“Once they get to Houston, they are pretty much home free,” Dan Webb, a retired Texas Department of Public Safety lieutenant who specialized in smuggling cases, said after the Edna crash. “They love 59 for going north, and they love Interstate 10. You’d think it would be San Antonio, but it is not.”
But smuggling efforts aren’t just limited to roadways, Laster pointed out.
“I’ve seen victims come in by airplane, boat, land, different vehicles – big trucks to vans – anyway one can move people,” she said, adding that the ongoing demand for cheap labor ensures that these clandestine efforts continue.
“I’ve done this for 14 years and it still astonishes me that we’re still dealing with this problem,” she said.
“I commend the Walmart employee. It’s something not solved just by the government, but by us – by saying that here in the U.S. we have human rights and we won’t tolerate this activity.”
© Copyright 2017 StarChase.com | All Rights Reserved