The suspected driver of a truck packed with dozens of migrants who died in sweltering heat during a smuggling attempt in Texas and an accused conspirator were charged in U.S. federal court on Wednesday with human trafficking offenses.
If convicted each man faces a maximum sentence of life in prison, or possibly the death penalty, the U.S. Justice Department said in announcing charges stemming from the deadliest migrant-trafficking incident on record in the United States.
The death toll from the tragedy rose to 53 on Wednesday as local authorities reported two more migrants initially hospitalized from their ordeal packed inside a sweltering tractor-trailer truck had died.
The truck, carrying migrants from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, was discovered abandoned on Monday in a desolate, industrial area near a highway on the outskirts of San Antonio, Texas, about 160 miles (250 km) north of the U.S.-Mexico border.
Temperatures in the area that day had soared as high as 103 Fahrenheit (39.4 Celsius), and authorities called to the scene found no water supplies or signs of working air-conditioning inside the cargo trailer.
Officials described finding the rear door to the trailer ajar with "stacks of bodies" inside, many of them hot to the touch. Other victims were discovered on the ground nearby, some deceased, some incapacitated. It was not made clear from official accounts how the door opened.
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