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Search Underway After Hundreds Of Immigrants Escape 18-Wheeler And Flee Into Frigid Darkness

Screen capture Feb. 18, 2021.
Screen capture Feb. 18, 2021.

A search is underway for more than 100 unauthorized immigrants who fled a refrigerated truck at a QuickTrip gas station in south Bexar County.

The incident happened around 6 p.m. Thursday at the QT gas station near IH-37 and Loop 1604.

Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar said emergency dispatchers received a call from someone within the refrigerated truck saying they were running out of air and needed help. Deputies were able to detain about 50 of the immigrants. But officials expressed concern for those who fled into the woods as San Antonio braced for a hard freeze Thursday night.

“Most of the people that I saw they weren't wearing jackets. They were wearing t-shirts and jeans at most so they're probably going to be in some trouble out here physically speaking,” Salazar said. “So we'd like to get these folks accounted for and get them into safety ASAP."

The smugglers created an “airtight enclosure” to avoid detection by sealing off the opening on the inside of the truck with foam. Salazar said those in the back of the truck were in danger of suffocating.

The immigrants that were detained by BSCO deputies appear to be in good health and are believed to have traveled through Mexico from Guatemala and El Salvador.

Officials said the smuggling suspects may be intermixed with the victims in the group, and officials were trying to identify the suspects.

This was the second time in recent weeks that the Bexar County Sheriff's office responded to calls from potential victims of human smuggling or trafficking.

On Feb. 10, authorities searched for a white tanker truck accompanied by a black pickup after a disturbing call reported at least 80 people trapped inside and desperate for oxygen.

People with any information that may assist with either of the investigations were encouraged to call BCSO at 210-335-6070.

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Lauren Terrazas can be reached at lauren@tpr.org and on Twitter at @terrazas_lauren