James M. Bradley Jr. left a federal courthouse after a hearing in San Antonio on July 24.
A tractor-trailer driver accused of hauling undocumented immigrants in a scorching truck through South Texas in July, which resulted in the deaths of 10 men, pleaded guilty on Monday to human smuggling charges.
The driver, James M. Bradley Jr., pleaded guilty in federal court in San Antonio to one count of transporting immigrants resulting in death and another count of conspiracy. Police officers came upon the truck in the parking lot of a San Antonio Walmart and discovered the gruesome scene of the migrants’ bodies, an episode that highlighted the cruel business of human smuggling and the desperate efforts by migrants to reach the United States.
Mr. Bradley, 61, of Clearwater, Fla., will face up to life in prison when he is sentenced in January.
“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,” Shane M. Folden, the special agent with the San Anontio office of the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations unit, said in a statement.
It was not clear what led Mr. Bradley, who had pleaded not guilty to the charges last month, to change his plea. A spokesman for the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas said that a plea agreement with Mr. Bradley was under seal. His guilty plea did not apply to three other charges he faces, and the spokesman said that those charges could be dismissed at the sentencing hearing in January.
Mr. Bradley’s lawyer, as well as the federal prosecutor in the case, did not respond to multiple requests for comment on Monday night.
The episode, one of the nation’s deadliest involving human trafficking, began on the morning of July 22 near the South Texas border town of Laredo. After making their way into the United States by crossing the Rio Grande and other means, the migrants were packed into the back of an eighteen-wheeler by smugglers, who told them that the truck had a cooling system, according to a criminal complaint.
But not long after the next leg of their journey began, the immigrants discovered that the refrigeration system was not working. Without food or water, they were trapped in what became a steaming oven as the big-rig rolled along the highway in 100-degree-plus heat.
Some people started to pass out; others banged on the truck’s wall to get the driver’s attention. They took turns inhaling air from a small vent hole.
About 155 miles into the trip, the truck’s driver finally pulled over outside a Walmart in San Antonio, the back door swung open and some people stumbled out. A Walmart employee alerted the police after a person from the truck asked for water, the police said.
The police found eight men dead in the truck, and 31 migrants were taken to hospitals, where two men later died. The truck had up to 200 people at one point, the immigrants told the authorities, and said they had paid fees to be transported.
Mr. Bradley faced charges in the case along with another man, Pedro Silva Segura, 47, who the authorities said was in the country illegally and living in Laredo. Mr. Silva is expected to be transferred to San Antonio to face numerous charges, including a count of conspiracy to transport and harbor immigrants for financial gain resulting in death.