illegal immigrant smuggler died in the wreck
Investigators in South Texas say the right front tire of a Ford F-250 pickup truck packed with 23 people came apart as the vehicle rounded a curve on U.S. Highway 59 near Goliad Sunday night, pulling the vehicle to the right and causing the driver to slam into a tree, 1200 WOAI news reports.
Texas Department of Public Safety Trooper Gerald Bryant told 1200 WOAI news that 15 people are confirmed dead, and the death toll could go higher.
“Seven of the eight (who remain hospitalized) are in critical condition,” he said. “We may end up with even more fatalities before it’s over with.”
Investigators say seven of the 23 were riding in the cab of the pickup, and the remainder were riding in the bed.
Bryant says it appears the pickup was taking suspected illegal immigrants from Guatemala and Honduras from the Rio Grande Valley to Houston, where they hoped to find jobs.
Gregory Palmore of Immigration and Customs Enforcement says the dead include 11 males and three females. Two children are among the dead.
Texas State Police Lt. Glen Garrett says it is believed that all 22 passengers, and possibly the driver, were illegal immigrants. Highway 59 is a well traveled route for immigrant smugglers bringing their cargo from the Mexican border to Houston. It was along Highway 59 just northeast of where the Sunday night accident took place that a truck driver unhitched a milk trailer packed with dozens of undocumented immigrants back in 2003. 19 had died by the time officials opened the trailer, and the pickup driver was sentenced to prison.
Bryant says officials have determined that all of the passengers were from Central America, fingerprints of the victims have been taken and personal information is being matched with facts and photographs being sent to the DPS by people in Guatemala and Honduras who fear their relatives may be among the dead and injured.
Bryant says the driver is among the dead, and he is believed to be the sole smuggler. He didn’t know if the driver is connected to one of the Mexican gangs which charge as much as $5,000 a person to ferry illegal immigrants to destinations in Texas.
“We really believe that all the others were the immigrants that he was bringing in,” he said.
Bryant says the problem of vehicles being horribly overloaded with illegal immigrants being smuggled into the U.S. is not a new one. Just three months ago, a van crammed with 19 suspected illegal immigrants went off a road near the Rio Grande River, killing nine people.
“There are laws in the books regarding the number of passengers,” he said. “There are laws on immigration too. Even with the laws, we find people who do not abide by the laws.”
He says he’s used to investigating situations were illegal immigrants either die in vehicle wrecks or die in the desolate Texas Brush Country north of the Rio Grande trying to walk to cities like San Antonio or Houston. Frequently smugglers delude the immigrants into thinking that their destination city is ‘just a day’s walk away,’ and the landscape is as lush and green as the land they left in Central America.
“It’s hard to blame anybody for trying to improve their life and make a better life,” he said.