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Driver in the San Antonio tragedy didn't know the truck's AC failed, complaint says

People gather at a makeshift memorial for the 53 migrants who died this week in San Antonio.
Jordan Vonderhaar
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Getty Images
People gather at a makeshift memorial for the 53 migrants who died this week in San Antonio.

The suspected driver of a tractor-trailer packed with dozens of migrants who died this week was unaware that the trailer's air conditioning had failed, according to court documents. More than 50 people died after being trapped in the sweltering trailer that was discovered Monday in San Antonio.

Christian Martinez, one of the men arrested in the case, allegedly texted the suspected driver on Monday with a manifest for the truck, and a location in Laredo, Texas.

Martinez allegedly told a government informant that the suspected driver, Homero Zamorano Jr., was "unaware the air conditioning unit stopped working," according to the complaint against him filed in Texas federal court.

In a sworn affidavit, Homeland Security Investigations special agent Nestor Canales describes a series of text messages between Zamorano and Martinez beginning around noon on Monday.

"I go to the same spot," Zamorano allegedly texted Martinez. About half an hour later, Martinez responded with a GPS location in Laredo, Texas, according to the complaint.

Martinez allegedly sent several more text messages to Zamorano that afternoon, saying, "Call me bro" and "Wya bro," believed to be an abbreviation for, "Where you at?"

Prosecutors say police later found Zamorano hiding in brush near the abandoned 18-wheeler on the outskirts of San Antonio.

Zamorano, 45, appeared in federal court in San Antonio on Thursday. He is charged with one count of alien smuggling resulting in death. Martinez, 28, is charged with one count of conspiracy to transport illegal aliens resulting in death.

If convicted, both men face up to life in prison or the death penalty.

In addition to Zamorano and Martinez, two other men have been charged in connection with the incident. Prosecutors say the registration for the tractor-trailer led police to an address in San Antonio. They later arrested two men identified as Juan Claudio D'Luna-Mendez and Juan Francisco D'Luna-Bilbao. Prosecutors say both men were in the U.S. illegally, and are now charged with weapons violations.

Fifty-three migrants from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador died after being trapped in the trailer, making it one of the deadliest human smuggling tragedies on U.S. soil.

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Joel Rose is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers immigration and breaking news.