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4 more arrests are made a year after 53 migrants died in a sweltering tractor-trailer


Four more people have been arrested in connection with what's believed to be the deadliest human smuggling incident in U.S. history. A year ago, 53 people, including six children and a pregnant woman, died after they were trapped in a hot, unventilated trailer in San Antonio. A warning - this report includes graphic details of what investigators learned about how they suffered and how they died. Texas Public Radio's Joey Palacios reports.

JOEY PALACIOS, BYLINE: Tuesday marked the one-year anniversary of the tragedy. Jaime Esparza, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Texas, described the conditions inside the trailer on that sweltering June afternoon.


JAIME ESPARZA: As temperatures rose inside the trailer, the people trapped inside screamed and banged on the walls for help. Some passed out. Others clawed at the sides of the trailer, attempting to escape.

PALACIOS: At least 66 people were inside that truck, from Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras. They paid upwards of $15,000 to be smuggled into the country. The indictment unsealed yesterday alleges the smugglers coordinated their trip via a network of stash houses and trailers. It also alleges they knew the air conditioning in the 53-foot trailer of the 18-wheeler did not work and still loaded people inside. The trip began in Laredo, ending three hours later in San Antonio. Forty-eight people would be found dead or dying when the trailer was opened in San Antonio. Five more died in hospitals. Again, U.S. Attorney Jaime Esparza.


ESPARZA: The allegations in this indictment are horrifying. Dozens of desperate, vulnerable men, women and children put their trust in smugglers who abandoned them in the locked trailer to perish in the merciless Texas heat.

PALACIOS: The four men newly arrested in Texas this week are all Mexican nationals - Riley Covarrubias-Ponce, Felipe Orduna-Torres, Luis Alberto Rivera-Leal and Armando Gonzales-Ortega. They each face four human smuggling charges, including transporting people resulting in death. The investigation is ongoing. The truck's driver and another man, Homero Zamorano Jr. and Christian Martinez, were arrested last year and charged in the tragedy. They're expected back in court this September.

For NPR News, I'm Joey Palacios in San Antonio.

(SOUNDBITE OF WHALE FALL'S "THE APARTMENT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Joey Palacious