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San Antonio Trailer Deaths: A Survivor Speaks, Driver Appears In Federal Court

Joey Palacios
Texas Public Radio

At least three survivors of Sunday’s horrific tractor-trailer incident were interviewed by federal authorities. Parts of their stories were listed in the federal complaint filed against the driver James Matthew Bradley, who is now charged with illegally transporting migrants.

A survivor provided the following account to officials: 

Special agents interviewed a man from Aguascalientes, Mexcio. He was one the dozens in the trailer and is only identified by the initials JMMJ. 

He wanted to be smuggled into the United States and taken to San Antonio. The smugglers were going to charge him $5,500 when he arrived. He successfully crossed the Rio Grande with 28 other people. 

He was told the Zetas drug cartel would charge 12,000 pesos for protection and a raft to cross the river. They made it in three trips. JM was taken to the trailer the next day by pick-up truck, where an estimated 70 people were already inside. 

After entering, the doors were closed and there was no food or water. The trailer left that evening. 

JM says the first hour of the trip everyone seemed to be okay, but then people started having trouble breathing and some began passing out. He says they banged on the trailer walls and yelled to get the driver’s attention but he never stopped. 

There was a hole in the trailer wall for ventilation and they took turns breathing through the opening. When they arrived in San Antonio, JM says the driver braked and people toppled over. Someone – possibly the driver – opened the doors. Many people exited into black SUVs in a matter of minutes.

At least eight people were found dead in the trailer when a Walmart worker called police. Nearly 30 others were taken to hospitals, including JM.

Driver faces charges in federal court


The driver of the semi-truck in Sunday’s tragic incident appeared in federal court today. 60-year-old James Matthew Bradley faces charges of illegally transporting immigrants and could face the death penalty or life in prison if convicted.

Bradley was escorted into the courtroom wearing shackles on his arms and legs. He only spoke about five times with "yes" and "no" answers. 

The arraignment lasted about 10 minutes before he was placed back in custody. The criminal complaint states that Bradley says he was taking the trailer from Shaller, Iowa to Brownsville, Texas to deliver the trailer to a new owner. 

Bradley claims that he wasn’t aware of the contents and told authorities that he stopped in Laredo to have the trailer washed and detailed. He arrived in San Antonio late Saturday or early Sunday morning. 

Bradley says when he stopped at the Walmart to use the restroom, he heard banging and noises from the trailer. When he opened the doors, he was knocked over by about 30 to 40 people running out of the trailer. Inside there were bodies on the floor. 

The complaint says Bradley called his wife but did not call police. Investigators also interviewed survivors that provide conflicting information to Bradley's account.  San Antonio Police say a Walmart worker alerted authorities when a migrant asked for water. The number of people in the trailer ranges between 70 to nearly 200 based on different accounts.
Bradley will be back in federal court for a hearing this Thursday. 

Joey Palacios can be reached atJoey@TPR.org and on Twitter at @Joeycules