Truck driver convicted on some charges in smuggling deaths; avoids death penalty

| 3/23/2005

Truck driver Tyrone Williams was convicted by a jury today, March 23, in the smuggling deaths of 19 illegal immigrants in 2003, media outlets reported.

Williams, 34, a resident of Schenectady, NY, could have faced the death penalty in the case. However, after the jury temporarily deadlocked during the deliberations, it finally convicted him on some charges while sparing him from execution.

The case arose in 2003 when a group of more than 70 immigrants from Mexico, Central American and the Dominican Republic were being transported in a tractor-trailer from south Texas to Houston.

Law enforcement officials said that the truck driver – whom they identified as Williams – left the trailer in the early morning hours of May 14 of that year. As the heat in the trailer increased, 19 of those inside died – most from dehydration, hyperthermia and suffocation. Among the victims was a 5-year-old boy from Mexico.

The victims – men, women and children from Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras – were apparently so desperate for air that they tried to claw through insulation on the back door. Authorities said they thought as many as 100 people were crammed in the trailer.

Williams was convicted on 38 charges of transporting illegal immigrants, The Associated Press reported. However, the jury remained deadlocked on the rest of the 58 charges he faces, including those that could bring the death penalty.

Fourteen people were identified as suspects in the case; prosecutors have said most were part of the smuggling ring that brought the 74 aliens into the country.

Two of those suspects – Fredy Giovanni Garcia-Tobar, 25, Harlingen, TX, and Victor Jesus Rodriguez, 38, Brownsville, TX – were convicted of multiple charges in the case in late December 2004, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Houston said. Their sentencing is scheduled for March 28, according to U.S. Attorney Michael Shelby

A massive investigation was conducted by the Houston, San Antonio, Harlingen, Brownsville and McAllen, TX, offices of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement; the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of the Inspector General; the Texas Department of Public Safety; the Texas Rangers; the Victoria County Sheriff's Department; the McAllen Police Department; the Harlingen Police Department; and the Victoria Police Department.

Garcia-Tobar and Rodriguez were convicted of: conspiracy to transport aliens unlawfully in the United States in a way that resulted in injury or death; helping conceal and transport 19 of the surviving aliens in a way that resulted in injury; and aiding and abetting the unlawful transportation of the 19 aliens who died. Both faced 58 counts, and could be imprisoned for life.

“This case involves the greatest loss of life in recent history in what appears to be an alien-smuggling case,” Asa Hutchinson, then undersecretary for border and transportation security at the Homeland Security Department, said in 2003. He said the case was “a horrific reminder of the callous disregard smugglers have for their human cargo.”