James Matthew Bradley Jr., the driver of the tractor-trailer that became a death chamber for 10 migrants in late July, on Monday pleaded guilty to federal charges connected to the smuggling incident.

James Matthew Bradley Jr. Credit: Courtesy / Hillsborough County Sheriff Facebook

The charges – one count of conspiracy to transport aliens resulting in death and one count of transporting aliens resulting in death – could carry a sentence of life in prison. Bradley, 61, is scheduled to be sentenced on Jan. 22, 2018, according to a statement released by the Department of Justice.

The smuggling operation came to light around midnight on July 23, when an employee of the McDonald’s restaurant inside a Southside Walmart, at 8538 Interstate 35 Access Road, alerted police after one of the immigrants escaped the unventilated trailer and came inside to request water.

Police arrived shortly after midnight to find 39 migrants suffering varying degrees of heat-related injuries. Eight were pronounced dead at the scene, and two later died in area hospitals. Four of the immigrants were unaccompanied minors ranging in age from 14 to 17. The migrants came from Mexico and Guatemala.

“Today’s admission of guilt by Mr. Bradley helps to close the door on one of the conspirators responsible for causing the tragic loss of life and wreaking havoc on those who survived this horrific incident,” said Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Special Agent Shane M. Folden. “This case is a glaring reminder that alien smugglers are driven by greed and have little regard for the health and wellbeing of their human cargo, which can prove to be a deadly combination. HSI is committed to aggressively targeting human smugglers and smuggling organizations, who continually victimize people for profit.”

Pedro Silva Segura, 47, an undocumented immigrant residing in Laredo, is Bradley’s alleged co-conspirator. Silva was detained in Laredo and will be transferred to San Antonio, where he faces one count of conspiracy to transport and harbor undocumented aliens for financial gain resulting in death, one count of conspiracy to transport and harbor undocumented aliens for financial gain resulting in serious bodily injury and placing lives in jeopardy, and two counts of transporting undocumented aliens resulting in serious bodily injury and placing lives in jeopardy.

Thirteen of the smuggled immigrants were detained as material witnesses in the investigation and provided testimony used to bring charges against Bradley and Silva.

Migrants’ testimony stated that the trailer contained between 70 and 180 to
200 people at various times during transport. Many are said to have fled from the Walmart parking lot, on foot or in waiting vehicles. Testimony also described differing fees and methods for being transported across the U.S. border.

Bradley initially said that he did not know the contents of the trailer he was driving. He also claimed that there were no vehicles waiting to pick up the migrants. Surveillance footage confirmed that several cars stopped by the trailer throughout the evening.

Bekah McNeel is a native San Antonian. You can also find her at her blog, FreeBekah.com, on Twitter @BekahMcneel, and on Instagram @wanderbekah.