FRIO COUNTY, Texas — Last month’s dramatic rescue of nearly 40 undocumented immigrants in the back of a sweltering 18-wheeler was captured by the body cameras worn by Frio County sheriff’s deputies.
Deputy Aaron Ramirez and Sgt. Jerry Reyna were the first to arrive Sept. 18 at a truck stop north of Pearsall after a caller reported to 911 about seeing a driver allegedly telling the people to get out, only to tell them to get back in the trailer. They said it had no refrigeration, only a small door in the back.
“I could only see arms sticking out of it,” Ramirez said.
Reyna went to speak to the driver who the witnesses had pointed out.
“The driver was just standing there, not a care in the world,” Reyna said.
Yet on Wednesday, Drew Christopher Potter, 33, of Watuga, outside Fort Worth, was indicted by a federal grand jury on four counts of conspiracy to smuggle and transport 39 undocumented men and women, including four minors from Guatemala, El Salvador and Mexico.
If convicted on each count, Potter faces up to 10 years in federal prison and a maximum $250,000 fine.
Reyna said Potter told him that he’d been paid to drive the truck to San Antonio, but he had no knowledge of any people inside the rig.
But Reyna told Potter, “We have witnesses.”
Mark Dawson, acting special agent of Homeland Security Investigations, said, “HSI is dedicated to working closely with its law enforcement partners in pursuit of identifying, arresting and prosecuting individuals involved in human smuggling.”
Ramirez said initially they believed only 10 people were trapped inside the rig.
Yet when they opened the door, they saw a crush of people trying desperately to get out.
The deputies asked for them to remain calm, but it was nearly impossible.
“They were sweating, dehydrated, it was horrible,” Ramirez said. “They were scared. They thought they were going to die.”
The investigation is ongoing, but Reyna said it’s his understanding the group was brought up from Laredo.
Reyna said it’s believed the people had been in the rig four to five hours.
He said ironically, the driver asked for something to drink several times, taking sips from Reyna’s cup of tea.
Reyna said he was left wondering, “How could you be thirsty with all these people that were in the back of the truck that were in worst condition than he was?”
According to a spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, after being treated at nearby hospitals, the immigrants were transferred by U.S. Border Patrol agents to Laredo.
Reyna said typically in these cases, they will be held in the U.S. as witnesses in Potter’s upcoming trial.