SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Eight people were found dead in a tractor-trailer outside a Walmart store in the stifling summer heat in what police called a horrific human trafficking case, and the driver was arrested.
Several other people, possibly dozens, were found in the truck, which didn’t have a working air conditioning system despite blistering temperatures that topped 100 degrees, and they were taken to hospitals, authorities said. The driver had been held, authorities said, but they didn’t release the driver’s identity.
A person from the truck approached a Walmart employee in a parking lot and asked for water late Saturday night or early Sunday morning, said police in San Antonio, where temperatures on Saturday reached 101 degrees. The employee gave the person the water and then called police, and when officers arrived they found the eight people dead in the back of the trailer, police Chief William McManus said.
Investigators checked store surveillance video, which showed vehicles had arrived and picked up other people from the tractor-trailer, police said.
“We’re looking at a human trafficking crime this evening,” McManus said.
He called the case “a horrific tragedy.”
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security was involved in the investigation into what happened, he said.
The National Weather Service’s local office said the temperature in San Antonio hit 101 degrees just before 5 p.m. Saturday and didn’t dip below 90 degrees until after 10 p.m.
Other cases of human trafficking in the United States have led to more deaths. In May 2003, 19 immigrants being transported from South Texas to Houston died inside a sweltering tractor-trailer.
Prosecutors said the driver in the 2003 case heard the immigrants begging and screaming for their lives as they were succumbing to the stifling heat inside his truck but refused to free them. The driver was resentenced in 2011 to nearly 34 years in prison after a federal appeals court overturned the multiple life sentences he had received.