By Jim Forsyth
SAN ANTONIO, Texas (Reuters) – The man accused of smuggling at least 100 illegal immigrants inside a sweltering tractor-trailer, 10 of whom died, has said he was unaware of the human cargo he was hauling until he took a rest stop in Texas, court papers showed on Monday.
James Bradley Jr., 60, was arrested on Sunday after police said they discovered dozens of undocumented Mexican and Guatemalan nationals, some unconscious in the back of the truck, others staggering around the vehicle in the parking lot of a Walmart store in San Antonio.
Authorities called to the scene found the bodies of eight illegal immigrants, along with 30 to 40 others who survived the ordeal but were suffering from dehydration and heat stroke, some of them as young as 15.
Two died later, bringing the death toll to 10, while 29 remained hospitalized on Monday, according to Thomas Homan, acting director of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Outside temperatures topped 100 Fahrenheit (37.8 Celsius) on Sunday.
Bradley, from Clearwater, Florida, made a brief appearance in federal court on Monday in San Antonio, where he was charged with one count of transporting illegal immigrants – a felony offense for which he could face capital punishment if convicted because the crime resulted in deaths.
More than 100 people were originally crammed into the stifling trailer of the big-rig, Homan said. But one of the survivors later told investigators that some immigrants managed to flee the scene before police arrived, swarming out of the truck when the rear doors opened to be whisked away by six black sport utility vehicles waiting for them nearby.
San Antonio Police Chief William McManus said video footage showed several other vehicles coming to pick up people who were inside the truck, though Bradley, according to court documents unsealed on Monday, denied seeing any such vehicles.
Two of the survivors, according to the criminal complaint, recounted having been smuggled in small…