SAN ANTONIO/MEXICO CITY—The alleged driver of a truck carrying dozens of migrants who died in the suffocating heat in Texas this week initially tried to pass himself off as a victim to escape authorities before he was arrested, U.S. and Mexican officials said on Wednesday.
The death toll in the incident rose to 53 as some migrants who had been trapped in the sweltering tractor-trailer, which was left in a desolated area near a highway in San Antonio, died in the hospital, local officials said.
More people—including minors—remain hospitalized in the worst human smuggling incident in recent U.S. history, officials said.
Mexicans made up about half of the deceased who perished after being trapped in the back of the truck as temperatures outside soared as high as 103 Fahrenheit (39.4 Celsius). Dozens of Mexican families this week have waited anxiously for news of missing loved ones who they fear may be among the dead.
Mexican immigration officials identified the driver of the truck only as “Homero N” and published a photograph of him driving the truck through a security checkpoint in Laredo, Texas, at 2:50 p.m. on Monday.
U.S. authorities detained two Mexican men in addition to the driver who was arrested leaving a house in San Antonio. On Wednesday, U.S. prosecutors were moving ahead with weapons charges against them.
A federal judge in San Antonio, Texas, ordered the suspects—identified as Juan Francisco D’Luna-Bilbao and Juan Claudio D’Luna-Mendez—detained until a preliminary hearing on Friday. Both men were charged on Tuesday with possessing firearms while residing in the United States illegally.
Francisco Garduno, the head of Mexico’s National Migration Institute, said at a news conference on Wednesday that the tractor-trailer passed through two U.S. Customs and Border Protection checkpoints in Texas, where it was captured on security cameras.
The first was in the town of Encinal, 40 miles north of Laredo, and the second in Cotulla, 30 miles farther north.
Between 6,000 and 6,800 trucks cross northbound through the Nuevo Laredo-Laredo international port of entry daily, according to Mexican customs data.
Garduno said on Wednesday that 14 Hondurans, seven Guatemalans, and two Salvadorans died alongside the 27 Mexican fatalities reported a day earlier.
One of the bodies found in Texas had not yet been identified, and 16 migrants were still in six local hospitals, Garduno said. Three of the injured are Mexicans, and the nationalities of 13 others remain unclear, he added.
Garduno said there were 67 migrants on board the truck, lower than earlier estimates by some U.S. officials.
By Jason Buch and Valentine Hilaire