A federal prosecutor filed smuggling charges Thursday against the owner and driver of a truck allegedly used to bring suspected illegal immigrants from Mexico into the U.S. on a journey that left 18 people dead, CNN reported.
Tyrone Williams of Schenectady, NY, has been charged with smuggling aliens and conspiracy, U.S. Attorney Michael Shelby said. He added that that more indictments will be handed up that could result in additional charges.
Authorities said Williams is an owner-operator who transports milk from New York to Texas and carries watermelons back to New York.
Officials said they believe as many as 140 persons from Mexico, Honduras and El Salvador were packed into the sweltering truck, which was headed for Houston.
Some 40 to 80 persons fled the back of the truck as deputies tried to administer first aid to more than 60 others left behind, Victoria County Sheriff Mike Ratcliff told CNN.
Of the 18 people who died, 13 were found inside the truck, and four were found on the ground outside, Ratcliff said. One person died at a hospital.
All the deaths were due to asphyxiation, dehydration or heat-related conditions, officials said.
The victims ranged in age from seven to 91, authorities said.
Four of the 44 survivors were in hospitals, and two of them were in critical condition, Ratcliff said.
The Victoria County Sheriff's Office responded to a 911 call reporting a disturbance outside a convenience store shortly after 2 a.m. Wednesday. Officers found the trailer parked near the store.
Investigators said they believe the trailer had been parked at the convenience store on U.S. 77 for less than a day and that people had not been inside it for much longer.
Penalties for immigrant smuggling resulting in death range from life in prison to no jail time at all, Shelby said. However, if the death is found to be intentional, a defendant could be subject to the death penalty, he said.