TYLER, Texas (KETK) — A man was arrested in Palestine on Tuesday in connection to a deadly smuggling incident that claimed the lives of 53 people in San Antonio. Several migrants were found inside of a tractor-trailer earlier this week.
Anderson County officials released his mugshot to KETK News on Thursday morning. He has an address in Palestine, records show.
Christian Martinez, 28, was charged with one count of conspiracy to transport undocumented migrants resulting in death, according to a release from the United States Department of Justice. He was in court in Tyler on Wednesday.
In San Antonio, officials also arrested 45-year-old Homero Zamorano Jr., and charged him for his alleged involvement in the same incident. He is the alleged driver of the trailer and he appeared in federal court Thursday.
If convicted, the men could face up to life in prison or the death penalty. Although both men have been charged, some people are not sure this will hold up.
“They will write away the issues of probable cause and profiling and those kinds of issues,” said Doris Meissner, an immigration advocate for the Migration Policy Institute.
San Antonio police were led to Zamorano, who was observed hiding in the brush after attempting to escape, he was detained by SAPD.
According to court documents, a search warrant was executed on a cell phone belonging to Zamorano. Officials discovered communications between Zamorano and Martinez concerning the smuggling event. Martinez will be transported to San Antonio for further proceedings, according to the U.S. DOJ.
On Monday, officials responded to the scene of a human smuggling incident with a tractor-trailer and 64 individuals who were suspected of entering into the U.S. illegally. San Antonio police advised Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) after getting 911 calls from concerned citizens.
At the scene, SAPD officers found some individuals inside the tractor-trailer and some on the ground in nearby brush, many of them dead and the others were very weak.
Officials have already taken measures to make sure a similar situation doesn’t happen again.
“DPS will create and implement a checkpoint strategy beginning immediately where they will begin targeting trucks like the one that was used where these people perished,” said Gov. Gregg Abbott.
Laredo Sector Border Patrol provided HSI agents surveillance footage of the tractor-trailer crossing through an immigration checkpoint. The driver was seen wearing a black shirt with stripes and a hat. HSI agents confirmed Zamorano matched the individual from the surveillance footage and was wearing the same clothing.
Officials confirmed 48 people were dead at the scene, according to the DOJ. Of those, 22 were Mexican nationals, seven Guatemalan nationals, two Honduran nationals and 17 of unknown origin but suspected to be undocumented non-citizens.
HSI confirmed the undocumented status of the deceased individuals by using a mobile fingerprint device. 16 of the 64 undocumented individuals were transported to local hospitals for medical evaluation. Five have since died at the hospital. Officials are working with foreign consulate offices for proper notifications to family members of the deceased.
Juan Claudio D’Luna-Mendez, 23, and Juan Francisco D’Luna-Bilbao, 48, both citizens of Mexico, were also arrested in connection to the incident and had initial appearances on Monday. According to court documents, the registration for the tractor-trailer used in the attempted smuggling event came back to a residence in San Antonio, according to the DOJ.
SAPD officers set up surveillance on the residence and observed two males leaving in separate trucks. After traffic stops on both trucks, the drivers were identified as D’Luna-Mendez and D’Luna-Bilbao. D’Luna-Bilboa was in possession of a handgun that was found in the center console of the truck he was driving. A search warrant was executed at the residence where additional firearms were located. Both individuals were determined to be in the U.S. illegally and were charged by criminal complaint with one count of possession of a weapon by an undocumented immigrant illegally in the U.S.