GANADO, Texas — A truck driver is facing charges related to human smuggling after she was discovered carrying more than 60 people in a stifling-hot trailer with no venthilation.
The incident began the morning of May 6 when Texas Department of Public Safety State Trooper Josue Alvarez conducted a motorist-assist on a red semi pulling a refrigeration trailer that was sitting on the side of the road near Highway 59 and County Road 202 in Ganado, Texas.
Alvarez reported that he saw four or five people walking near the trailer when he pulled behind it, noting that the right back door of the trailer was slightly ajar. At that point, he made contact with the driver, Codi Denise Hartman.
Hartman told Alvarez that she ran out of diesel when he asked if she needed any assistance. When asked what she was transporting, she said, “energy drinks.”
“It was hot like fire. We couldn’t breathe. We were going to die.” — Guatemalan citizen who was among those being smuggled to Houston
Alvarez said that when he asked Hartman for a bill of lading, she became nervous, telling him that it must be in the cab of the tractor.
Alvarez said he saw several people through the cracked door of the trailer. He secured it and called for back-up, after which several of the people began banging on the doors and walls of the trailer asking for help.
Alvarez immediately opened the trailer doors and saw many people, whom he described as “disheveled” in appearance. He said that upon opening the doors, approximately 60-100 people who had been trapped inside began fleeing on foot in several directions.
Twelve people remained on the scene.
Alvarez contacted Jackson County Emergency Medical Services to help those left behind. They were checked for extreme dehydration, and seven of them were taken to Jackson County Hospital.
It was later determined that the air conditioning for the trailer was not functioning, compounding the choking heat effects inside.
Officers were unable to find a bill of lading for the truck, and they also discovered that both the tractor and trailer had fictitious license plates.
Hartman was arrested for charges related to human smuggling.
Sixty-five people who were in the trailer were apprehended. All of them were determined to have entered the U.S. illegally by crossing the Rio Grande. They were transported to the Jackson County Jail for further investigation.
When Alvarez interviewed Hartman, she said that she was contacted by an unindicted co-conspirator who claimed to know her through a friend, and she was offered $800 for a five-hour trip to drive “to somewhere in Houston.”
Hartman said she drove to a Love’s Travel Stop in Donna, Texas, where she said the tractor-trailer was in the parking lot and an “unidentified Hispanic female” was in the passenger seat.
Hartman claimed that the unidentified woman took a picture of her driver’s license before the trip and threatened her family if she talked to law enforcement. Hartman said that when she ran out of diesel, the unidentified woman exited and began walking alongside the highway.
There was also a phone left in the cab that Hartman claimed belonged to the unidentified woman. Hartman said she was parked on the side of the road for about an hour before Alvarez arrived. She claimed she never opened the back doors of the trailer and that she believed that the cargo really was energy drinks.
The report states that Hartman eventually admitted that the phone that officers found belonged to her. She said that she was instructed to buy a phone so she could communicate during the transport and that her personal phone was still at her house. Hartman gave consent to search through the phone found in the cab.
Investigators found correspondence on the phone between Hartman and several other people.
Investigators said that there was an audio message where Hartman stated “The door was not locked. They would not let me lock it, so I just started driving. I don’t know what the f*ck is going on.”
A separate message from the same number said, “Look I’m sorry to bother you a lot but at the next truck stop I need u to stop and back the truck in where no one will see u n open the truck n check on the people make sure there good but check with your own eyes… But please check on them make sure they breathing.”
Investigators also received statements from people who were in the trailer.
One of the men in the back of the trailer said that were approximately 80 people in it and that they began knocking and striking the walls because they could not breathe. The man said that he “fell to his knees” once he got out of the trailer because he could not support himself.
Another man, from Honduras, said that he stayed at a stash house before riding in the trailer. He told investigators that the people were in the trailer for approximately six hours before they encountered law enforcement.
A Guatemalan citizen who was in the trailer said the group was moved to a second stash house where they stayed for approximately four days. There, they were fed ramen soup, eggs and salami.
He said that on the last day at around midnight, a tractor-trailer backed up to the house and all the people were told to get in. He said each person’s phone was taken away, and they were told that they were being taken to Houston. He said that the trailer was hot when they entered and “never got cool.” He also said he never saw the driver, and no water was provided to the people in the trailer.
He said that “it was hot like fire. We couldn’t breathe. We were going to die.”
He said he was grateful to law enforcement for saving them because he knew he was about to die.
A woman from Guatemala who was in the trailer said she recalls hearing dogs barking as the truck passed through the border patrol checkpoint, but the truck continued traveling north.
She said it was very hot, and people began to bang on the walls of the trailer and yell, pleading to be let out.
She said that at one point, the truck was stopped, and the door was cracked open a few inches to allow fresh air for the occupants. She said that it was very hot, and people took off their clothes because they were completely saturated with sweat.
She said there was no water for the occupants of the trailer and people began eating the spoiled tomatoes fin an attempt to gain some moisture from the produce.
Hartman was charged with bringing in and harboring certain aliens. She could face up to a decade behind bars and heavy fines.
The Trucker News Staff produces engaging content for not only TheTrucker.com, but also The Trucker Newspaper, which has been serving the trucking industry for more than 30 years. With a focus on drivers, the Trucker News Staff aims to provide relevant, objective content pertaining to the trucking segment of the transportation industry. The Trucker News Staff is based in Little Rock, Arkansas.