What we know about the suspects in the deadly migrant smuggling tragedy in San Antonio

Homero Zamorano is suspected of driving the tractor-trailer. Three others have also been taken into custody after deaths of more than 50 migrants

Officials detail how the 18-wheeler got to San Antonio and more about who was driving the big rig.

SAN ANTONIO – Who’s responsible for what could be the deadliest migrant smuggling incident on U.S. soil? That’s the question after the deaths of more than 50 people found abandoned inside a tractor-trailer on San Antonio’s Southwest Side Monday evening.

So far, four people are charged in connection with the smuggling deaths.

Three people were detained on Monday night. A fourth person was arrested on Tuesday. All of the suspects are in federal custody.

Homeland Security Investigations, a branch of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement that specializes in human trafficking cases, is leading the investigation.

Here’s what we know about their arrests and the charges they are facing.

The suspects

Homero Zamorano

Homero Zamorano, 45, is the man accused of driving the tractor-trailer from Mexico to San Antonio. He is charged with one count of smuggling illegal immigrants resulting in death. That charge carries a potential penalty of life in prison or the death penalty.

Zamorano is set to appear in court at 1:30 p.m. on Thursday for his first hearing before a U.S. Magistrate in San Antonio.

Department of Justice officials said when San Antonio police arrived in the 9600 block of Quintana Road Monday evening, Zamorano was hiding in some brush after trying to get away.

Sources said he then tried to blend in with migrants to avoid being arrested.

Homero Zamorano, the suspected driver of the tractor-trailer where more than 50 migrants died from heat exhaustion. Mexican officials provided this photo during a briefing on June 29, 2022 saying Zamorano pretended to be one of the migrants to avoid being detained. (via Mexican National Palace Briefing)

In a press conference on Wednesday, Mexican officials shared new details about Zamorano’s route — identifying him as Homero “N” — and saying the truck may have started its journey in Laredo. Custom Border Patrol cameras show it passing checkpoints in Encinal and Cotulla.

The truck had a fake Department of Transportation number that was registered in Alamo, Texas. The plates were registered to a San Antonio address.

A photo taken of Homero Zamorano taken at the CBP inspection point in Encinal at 2:50 p.m. on July 27, 2022. (via Mexican National Palace Briefing)

Zamorano is originally from Brownsville, but lives in Pasadena, according to DOJ officials.

A Texas Department of Public Safety Criminal History search shows Zamorano has arrests dating back to 1995. His convictions range from misdemeanor marijuana charges to felony charges of burglary of a habitation and reckless injury to an elderly person.

Homero Zamorano has an arrest record that dates back to 1995 in Texas. (Texas Department of Public Safety)

Christian Martinez

According to a DOJ release, Christian Martinez, 28, was also arrested in connection with this incident.

Martinez was taken into custody Tuesday in Palestine on one count of conspiracy to transport illegal immigrants, resulting in death.

Authorities obtained a search warrant for Zamorano’s phone and they found that he and Martinez were discussing the smuggling event.

If convicted, Martinez could face up to life in prison or the death penalty. He had a court appearance Wednesday in Tyler, but he will be taken to San Antonio for future proceedings.

Christian Martinez is charged with one count of conspiracy to transport illegal aliens resulting in death in connection with the migrant tragedy in San Antonio on June 27, 2022 that left more than 50 migrants dead. (Anderson County)

Juan Francisco D’Luna-Bilbao and Juan Claudio D’Luna-Mendez

Two other potential suspects were taken into custody near a home in North Central San Antonio on Monday night.

Juan Francisco D’Luna-Bilbao and Juan Claudio D’Luna-Mendez are each charged with possession of a weapon while being in the United States illegally.

The men were traced to a home in the 100 block of Arnold Drive by the Texas license plate on the semi-truck.

San Antonio police officers watched the men leave the home separately and pulled them over during traffic stops. D’Luna-Bilbao informed officers he had a handgun in the console.

After obtaining a search warrant, officers found other guns inside the home.

Both men are Mexican citizens who once possessed a valid B-2 Visa but did not return to Mexico when their Visas expired.

D’Luna-Bilbao and D’Luna-Mendez will have a detention hearing at 10 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. on July 1 before a U.S. Magistrate in San Antonio.

Each could face a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison plus fines on the ATF charges.

Federal officials have not been clear on whether these suspects will face smuggling charges, or if they even took part in the smuggling operation that led to the deaths of 51 people.

Other migrant death cases

Though it’s now the deadliest, this isn’t the only smuggling case involving a big rig that has resulted in the death of migrants. At least two other high-profile cases in Texas resulted in nearly 30 deaths.

On July 23, 2017, 10 migrants died after being smuggled in a tractor-trailer.

They were discovered in a Walmart parking lot at 8358 Interstate 35 South on the city’s Southwest Side.

Investigators found 39 migrants at the scene but believe as many as 100-200 people may have been packed into that sweltering trailer.

James Matthew Bradley, Jr., 61, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to transport aliens resulting in death and one count of transporting aliens resulting in death.

Bradley was given a life sentence.

In May of 2003, Tyrone Williams was paid $7,500 to smuggle migrants across a border checkpoint.

As temperatures swelled above 170 degrees inside an unrefrigerated dairy truck, the migrants screamed for help and tried to claw their way out.

In Victoria, Williams unhitched the trailer and drove off.

Nineteen people died.

Williams was convicted by a jury of conspiring with others to transport and harbor illegal aliens for commercial advantage and financial gain and sentenced to 34 years in prison without the possibility of parole.

Reporting suspicious activity

Homeland Security Investigations released a statement Tuesday with minimal information about the incident but urged people to come forward if they have information about this or any smuggling situation.

“To report suspicious activity, we encourage people to call the HSI Tip Line at 1-866-DHS-2ICE. All calls are kept confidential.”

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About the Authors:

Julie Moreno has worked in local television news for more than 20 years. She came to KSAT as a news producer in 2000. After producing thousands of newscasts, she transitioned to the digital team in 2015. She writes on a wide variety of topics from breaking news to trending stories and manages KSAT’s daily digital content strategy.

Emmy-award winning reporter Dillon Collier joined KSAT Investigates in September 2016. Dillon's investigative stories air weeknights on the Nightbeat and on the Six O'Clock News. Dillon is a two-time Houston Press Club Journalist of the Year and a Texas Associated Press Broadcasters Reporter of the Year.