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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Western District of Texas

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Defendants Indicted in Tractor Trailer Smuggling Incident That Resulted in 53 Deaths

SAN ANTONIO – A federal grand jury in San Antonio returned an indictment today against two men charged in the fatal tractor trailer incident that occurred on June 27, 2022, resulting in the death of 50 adults and three minor children and injuring 10 adults and one minor child.

Homero Zamorano Jr., 46, of Pasadena, TX, and Christian Martinez, 28, of Palestine, TX,  are charged in a federal indictment with one count of conspiracy to transport illegal aliens resulting in death; one count of transportation of illegal aliens resulting in death; one count of conspiracy to transport aliens resulting in serious bodily injury and placing lives in jeopardy; and one count of transportation of illegal aliens resulting in serious bodily injury and placing lives in jeopardy, all in violation of Title 8, United States Code, Section 1324.

Upon conviction, the charges for conspiracy to transport and transport resulting in death carry a maximum penalty of life in prison or the death penalty.  The Attorney General will decide whether to seek the death penalty at a later time.  Should the Attorney General determine that the circumstances of the offense are such that a sentence of death is justified, the law requires that notice be filed with the court at a reasonable time before trial.  The defendants face up to 20 years in prison for the transporting resulting in serious bodily injury charges.  A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

On June 27, 2022, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) special agents responded to the scene of a human smuggling event involving a tractor trailer and 64 individuals suspected of entering the United States illegally.  San Antonio Police Department (SAPD) officers advised HSI Agents that they arrived at the location of the tractor trailer in southwest San Antonio after receiving 911 calls from concerned citizens.  At the scene, SAPD officers discovered multiple individuals some still inside the tractor trailer, some on the ground and in nearby brush, many of them deceased and some of them incapacitated.  SAPD officers were led to the location of an individual, later identified as Zamorano, who was observed hiding in the brush after attempting to abscond.  Zamorano was detained by SAPD officers.

A search warrant was executed on a cell phone belonging to Zamorano.  Through investigation, it was discovered that communications occurred between Zamorano and Martinez concerning the smuggling event.  

Laredo Sector Border Patrol provided HSI agents surveillance footage of the tractor trailer crossing through an immigration checkpoint. The driver could be seen wearing a black shirt with stripes and a hat.  HSI agents confirmed Zamorano matched the individual from the surveillance footage and was wearing the same clothing.

U.S. Attorney Ashley C. Hoff of the Western District of Texas and HSI Acting Special Agent in Charge Craig Larrabee, San Antonio Division, made the announcement.

HSI, with valuable assistance from the San Antonio Police Department; the Palestine Police Department; Joint Task Force Alpha; Customs and Border Protection; and Border Patrol, is investigating the case.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Amanda Brown, Sarah Spears and Jose Luis Acosta are prosecuting the case.

These charges resulted in coordination with Joint Task Force Alpha (JTFA). The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Texas is part of the JTFA, which was established by Attorney General Merrick B. Garland in June 2021 to marshal the investigative and prosecutorial resources of the Department of Justice, in partnership with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), to enhance U.S. enforcement efforts against the most prolific and dangerous human smuggling and trafficking groups operating in Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. The Task Force focuses on disrupting and dismantling smuggling and trafficking networks that abuse, exploit, or endanger migrants, pose national security threats, and are involved in organized crime. JTFA consists of federal prosecutors and attorneys from U.S. Attorneys’ Offices along the Southwest Border (District of Arizona, Southern District of California, Southern District of Texas, and Western District of Texas), from the Criminal Division and the Civil Rights Division, along with law enforcement agents and analysts from DHS’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and Customs and Border Protection’s U.S. Border Patrol, the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration.

An indictment is merely an allegation and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

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Topic(s): 
Human Trafficking
Component(s): 
Updated July 20, 2022