Federal prosecutors announced capital smuggling charges Wednesday against two men they say were involved with the truck found on the side of a San Antonio road with the bodies of dozens of dead illegal immigrants packed inside.
Authorities have identified Homero Zamorano Jr., an American citizen, as the driver of the truck, and have also connected Christian Martinez to the smuggling attempt.
Mr. Zamorano, 45, faces a charge of smuggling resulting in death, which carries a possible death sentence. Mr. Martinez, 28, was charged with conspiracy to smuggle aliens resulting in death, which prosecutors said also carries a potential death sentence.
Police found 48 dead bodies when they reached the truck, and five more people have died since being taken to the hospital, for a current death toll of 53. Eleven others were still hospitalized as of Wednesday.
Of the 48 dead at the scene, 22 were Mexican, seven were Guatemalan and two were Honduran. Another 17 were still awaiting identification.
Police found Mr. Zamorano hiding in the brush near the truck’s location.
Investigators later realized he was the driver after they obtained footage from a Border Patrol highway checkpoint on the route from the border to San Antonio and matched the clothing and hat Mr. Zamorano was wearing to the driver in the footage.
The deaths have sparked horror across the immigration debate, though widely divergent answers for why it happened.
Republicans said President Biden and his more relaxed border policies shouldered the blame, while he has said smugglers who facilitate illegal immigrants’ journey to the U.S. are responsible.
In addition to Mr. Zamorano and Mr. Martinez, authorities nabbed two Mexican illegal immigrants who emerged from a residence tied to the truck’s registration.
Police arrested the men as they emerged, separately, from the home.
Each was armed, and each also admitted to being Mexican citizens in the country illegally, having overstayed their visas, a Homeland Security Investigations agent said in affidavits accompanying weapons charges.
HSI is a division of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.