April 20–The trucker who transported several undocumented immigrants from Laredo to San Antonio in a sweltering tractor-trailer, resulting in the deaths of 10 people, has only five to seven years to live, according to his family.
James M. Bradley Jr., 61, faces sentencing Friday for the deadly incident last July, in which 39 immigrants were found after Bradley had pulled the trailer into the parking lot of a Walmart on San Antonio’s South Side. Eight of the 39 were dead at the scene, two more died at area hospitals and the rest were hospitalized for several days for treatment of heat-related injuries.
In a letter to Senior U.S. District Judge David Alan Ezra ahead of the sentencing, Bradley’s relatives say he is a decent man of good moral character who “has gone through many ups and downs in his life” but that the smuggling arrest stunned them.
“We are shocked by his actions because this is not the James that we know, love or grew up with,” his sister, Audrey Washington of Louisville, Kentucky, wrote on behalf of the family. “Our entire family is saddened by what has happened and our prayers go out to the victims and their families. We certainly do not approve what he has done and in no way condone his actions.”
The family also says they pray that he doesn’t spend the rest of his life behind bars because they are concerned about his medical condition.
“James has a below the knee amputation on his right leg and is a type 2 diabetic,” Washington wrote. “We have been informed that his life span ranges from 5 to 7 years, according to his most recent medical examinations.”
Bradley, most recently of Louisville, pleaded guilty in mid-October to one count of conspiracy to transport aliens resulting in death and one count of transporting aliens resulting in death.
The charges carry a maximum of life in prison without parole. But because Bradley admitted his guilt early on and cooperated with investigators, he may face a shorter sentence.
Bradley’s assistant federal public defender, Alfredo Villarreal, has said Bradley provided information about the smuggling ring to investigators during at least six interviews. His information led to charges against a smuggler in the chain, Pedro Silva Segura, 46, an undocumented immigrant living in Laredo. He has also pleaded guilty to smuggling charges and awaits sentencing, records show.
Court observers say prosecutors may reward him by filing a motion agreeing to some kind of leniency because of his cooperation. Such motions are normally filed under seal, and his court record shows Assistant U.S. Attorney Christina Playton filed a sealed document on Thursday.
On July 23, police responding to a call found the immigrants and trailer in the parking lot of a Walmart along Interstate 35, near Texas 16. Police found Bradley in the cab, along with a gun, ammunition and $5,643 in cash.
Survivors interviewed by Department of Homeland Security investigators said between 70 and 200 people were crowded into the hot trailer at one point, with only a small vent for air. The refrigerated trailer’s cooling system did not work.
When Bradley pulled the rig into the parking lot, the truck was being followed by seven vehicles, including vans and SUVs, prosecutor Playton has said. When Bradley stopped, a man from one of the vehicles opened the door and immigrants got into the waiting vehicles or ran into the bushes, while others staggered around and fell to the ground, Playton has said.
Bradley has a criminal record that crisscrosses the country much like his travels, with arrests or convictions for crimes that include theft and felony domestic violence charges.
He was arrested in 1997 in Arapahoe County, Colorado, on charges of felony menacing, menacing with a deadly weapon and third-degree assault. He pleaded guilty in 1998 to the felony menacing charge, and the others were dropped, records show. He was sentenced to 60 days in jail and two years of probation.
The probation was revoked in 2003 and he was arrested a year later on a felony escape warrant while in Hillsborough County, Florida. He was also charged in Florida with grand theft, but the charge was dropped after he spent more than a month in jail. He was then extradited to Colorado, where he received one year in prison on the escape charge.
His probation was revoked again, in 2005, and he was again sent to prison in Colorado, court records show.
He has also been convicted of several driving offenses in various states, including speeding, being over weight on his axles, misuse of equipment and driving without evidence of financial responsibility (insurance), according to court records.
Florida officials revoked his commercial driver’s license in April, months before the deadly incident, and officials said he should not have been driving tractor-trailers in the U.S. because of it.
Though public records and his latest employer said Bradley, who has been married twice, most recently lived in Louisville, he has also lived in Clearwater, Florida, Sacramento and Rancho Cordova, California, along with Denver, Aurora and Broomfield, Colorado.
Bradley dreamed of being a truck driver since he was a young boy, and hitch-hiked around the country, sleeping in drainage pipes along highways until he was picked up by a trucker who taught him to drive commercial trucks, Washington’s letter said. Bradley had been a truck driver for 45 years and was always willing to lend a hand from financial support to mentoring young men in his family about life choices, the letter said.
Bradley worked with Pyle Transportation of Iowa, and company officials have described him as an owner-operator, who made his own decisions and bought his own fuel, and should not have been in Laredo.
Pyle Transportation was placed under an “out-of-service order” in October by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration after it found Pyle’s safety rating was so unsatisfactory that it was unfit to remain in business.
Guillermo Contreras is a San Antonio Express-News staff writer. Read more of his stories here. — firstname.lastname@example.org — @gmaninfedland
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