The news from Texas on Sunday was disturbing. As many as 100 illegal immigrants desperate to get into the U.S. rode inside a sweltering semi-trailer for about 160 miles from Laredo to San Antonio, until discovered and rescued when the truck stopped at a Walmart store. Ten of them died of heat stroke, apparently, and many others are still hospitalized. The callousness of the “coyotes” who locked them in there, with or without the knowledge of the truck driver, is disgusting.
Because I do this blog each week, I quickly focused on the equipment -- not so much the tractor, which appears to be a customized Freightliner FLD Classic, but the trailer: What kind, who owns it, why was it going down the road with no cargo but humans suffering from heat and lack of water?
The arrested driver, owner-operator James Bradley Jr. of Florida, told police that the trailer’s owner, Pyle Transportation in Iowa, hired him to deliver the trailer to Brownsville, TX, where a new owner was to pick it up (the firm’s president corroborated that to a Des Moines TV news reporter). Bradley said he had gone to Laredo to have his tractor washed and detailed. If so, why didn’t he go straight to Brownsville to deliver the trailer?
Bradley said he didn’t know anyone was aboard until he stopped at that Walmart in San Antonio and heard noise from inside. He opened the doors and “Spanish people” began climbing out, knocking him to the ground in their terrified haste. It turns out that Bradley has a criminal record going back 20 years, and was driving without a CDL. Investigators will determine whether or not he’s telling the truth in this case.
As for the trailer, it’s a Great Dane refrigerated van with a Thermo King reefer unit that evidently was shut down. I’m sure people at those companies, and at Pyle and Walmart, wish this had never happened, much less their being drawn into it.
Heat was the killer, but how hot was it inside? It was close to 100 degrees F in San Antonio at the time, and an NBC report showed a Border Patrol agent shooting a laser thermometer at the forward ceiling. It registered 143.6. It might have been in the 130s closer to the floor, but how long can anyone stand that? It’s amazing anyone survived. The Border Patrol says this sort of thing has happened before, and that there was another case earlier this month.
Network news coverage of the San Antonio event has been understandably extensive, with this story leading newscasts for two days. And as always, reporters and anchors who aren’t too familiar with the trucking industry seldom used the correct terms in describing the vehicle. They said the people “were locked inside a tractor-trailer,” “the driver of the semi-trailer,” and other imprecise verbiage. That’s trivial in light of the human tragedy, I know, but it still bugs me. Why don’t they learn the correct terms and use them?
And there’s an irony here: The surviving victims are getting the best medical care, yet when they’re well enough, they’ll be sent back to Mexico and Guatemala, where they came from. And maybe they’ll die in another attempt to get into our country just to try to live decent lives. That’s far more than sad, and I wish I had a solution to the problem.