Four more arrested in smuggling incident that killed 53 migrants in Texas


By Daniel Trotta

(Reuters) – U.S. officials in Texas have arrested four Mexicans who were indicted on suspicion of operating a human smuggling ring responsible for the deaths a year ago of 53 migrants packed into a truck during sweltering heat, the Justice Department said on Tuesday.

Dozens of migrants from Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras were found in a tractor-trailer with malfunctioning air conditioning that was abandoned on the outskirts of San Antonio on June 27, 2022, a day when temperatures soared as high as 103 Fahrenheit (39.4 Celsius).

U.S. officials allege the suspects operated a ring that smuggled adults and children from Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico into the United States, overseeing the fateful journey with eight children and a pregnant woman aboard.

The suspects shared routes, guides, stash houses and vehicles, storing some of their tractors and trailers at a private parking lot in San Antonio, prosecutors said.

The indictment alleges some of the defendants knew the trailer’s air conditioning was broken and unable to blow cool air to the migrants inside.

When the suspects opened the door after a three-hour journey, they found 48 of the migrants dead, including the pregnant woman, prosecutors allege. Sixteen others were taken to the hospital, five of whom died.

A grand jury indicted the four men on June 7 on a host of illegal transport charges that could result in life imprisonment if they are convicted, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Texas said in a statement.

They were arrested on Monday in San Antonio, Houston and Marshall, Texas, and identified as Riley Covarrubias-Ponce, 30; Felipe Orduna-Torres, 28, Luis Alberto Rivera-Leal, 37, and Armando Gonzales-Ortega, 53, the statement said.

Reuters was unable to determine whether they had retained attorneys who could make any statement in their defense.

The arrests follow the indictments last year of four other suspects connected to the case, including the driver who police found hiding in the brush near the abandoned truck.

“The allegations in the indictment are horrifying. Dozens of desperate, vulnerable men, women and children put their trust in smugglers who abandoned them in a locked trailer to perish in the merciless south Texas summer,” Jaime Esparza, the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Texas, said in the statement.

(Reporting by Daniel Trotta, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)

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