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Two Texas men were indicted on Wednesday in connection to the deadliest known case of alleged smugglers taking migrants across the U.S.-Mexico border. The indictment comes as record numbers of migrants are crossing into the U.S. illegally.
Homero Zamorano Jr., 46, and Christian Martinez, 28, were indicted by a federal grand jury after an abandoned, airless tractor-trailer carrying at least 67 people was found in a remote part of San Antonio late last month with 53 dead or dying migrants inside.
The men were indicted for transporting and conspiring to transport migrants illegally resulting in death and transporting and conspiring to transport migrants illegally resulting in serious injury.
The migrants were from Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
If convicted, the men could face life sentences and even the death penalty if the Attorney General’s Office authorizes prosecutors to seek it.
Police found Zamorano hiding in some brush near the trailer after it was found on June 27. A search of his phone allegedly showed texts between him and Martinez discussing the alleged smuggling operation. In addition, surveillance video of the tractor trailer’s driver going through the Border Patrol checkpoint matched Zamonrano’s description, the indictment said.
Zamorano and Martinez remain in federal custody without bond as they await trial.
A 20-year-old survivor from Guatemala told the Associated Press the suspects had covered the trailer with what she thought was powdered chicken bouillon to keep Border Patrol dogs from smelling the migrants.
Nearly 240,000 migrants were encountered at the border in May, which is one-third more than a year earlier.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.