LA TIMES: The call came around midnight. A disoriented man had emerged from a tractor trailer in a Walmart parking lot near San Antonio, Texas, to ask a store employee for water.
After fetching water, the employee called police, who found eight dead bodies and dozens struggling for their lives in the back of the sweltering 18-wheeler.
In an incident the local police chief described as a “horrific” human trafficking tragedy, 39 people were found in and around the trailer in a parking lot off Interstate 35 in San Antonio, about 150 miles from the U.S.-Mexico border.
Eight men were pronounced dead at the scene early Sunday morning and are believed to have suffered from heat exposure and asphyxiation, police spokeswoman Romana Lopez said. Another man died later at a hospital, bringing the toll to nine.
Seventeen of the vehicle’s occupants were rushed to hospitals with serious or critical injuries. Another 13 had non-life-threatening injuries. At least two of the occupants were school-age children.
“All were victims of ruthless human smugglers indifferent to the well-being of their fragile cargo,” U.S. Atty. Attorney Richard L. Durbin Jr. said in a statement. “The South Texas heat is punishing this time of year. These people were helpless in the hands of their transporters. Imagine their suffering, trapped in a stifling trailer in 100-plus degree heat.”
Temperatures in San Antonio climbed to a sweltering 100 degrees Saturday, according to the National Weather Service. The truck did not appear to have air conditioning or water on board, said San Antonio Fire Chief Charles Hood.
“It was a mass casualty situation for us,” Hood said. “Each one of them had heart rates over about 130 beats per minute. They were very hot to the touch…. You’re looking at a lot of heat stroke, a lot of dehydration.”