SAN ANTONIO – A 29-year-old Palestine, Texas, man pleaded guilty to his involvement in the largest mass casualty event in San Antonio last year.
Christian Martinez pleaded guilty Wednesday to multiple counts from the deadly migrant smuggling tragedy on June 27, 2022, that claimed 53 lives. It happened in the 9600 block of Quintana Road.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Martinez pleaded guilty to the following:
- One count of conspiracy to transport illegal aliens resulting in death;
- One count of conspiracy to transport aliens resulting in serious bodily injury and placing lives in jeopardy;
- One count of transportation of illegal aliens resulting in death;
- One count of transportation of illegal aliens resulting in serious bodily injury and placing lives in jeopardy.
Martinez and the driver of the tractor-trailer involved in the incident, 47-year-old Homero Zamorano Jr., of Elkhart, Texas, were initially charged by indictment on July 20, 2022, according to the DOJ.
Four other co-defendants were charged on June 7, 2023, in connection with the smuggling incident. They include:
- Riley Covarrubias-Ponce, 30
- Felipe Orduna-Torres, 29
- Luis Alberto, 38
- Armando Gonzales-Ortega, 54
Covarrubias-Ponce, Orduna-Torres and others allegedly exchanged the names of the migrants who were smuggled in the tractor-trailer load before the incident occurred, the DOJ said.
All four are accused of “orchestrating the retrieval” of the tractor-trailer before handing it off to the driver, Zamorano, on June 27, officials said in a release.
Martinez drove Zamorano from Palestine to San Antonio, where Zamorano then picked up the empty tractor-trailer.
The DOJ said Orduna-Torres provided the Laredo address where the migrants were loaded into the tractor-trailer.
Gonzalez-Ortega is believed to have traveled to Laredo to meet the tractor-trailer, where at least 66 migrants, including eight children and one pregnant woman, were being smuggled.
Martinez, Covarrubias-Ponce, Orduna-Torres, Rivera-Leal, and Gonzales-Ortega “coordinated, facilitated, passed messages and made each other aware” as the tractor-trailer was traveling with the migrants before the tragedy, officials said.
The DOJ said Martinez will be sentenced on Jan. 4, 2024. He faces a maximum penalty of life in prison.