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Man Allegedly Driving San Antonio Tractor Trailer Charged After the Deaths of 53 People

People logo People 6/30/2022 Charmaine Patterson

CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP/Getty © Provided by People CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP/Getty

A man allegedly driving a tractor trailer in which dozens of people were found dead in San Antonio, Texas, is now in custody and charged with alien smuggling resulting in death, the Department of Justice said.

On Monday, the San Antonio Police Department and Homeland Security Investigations were alerted to an alleged "human smuggling event involving a tractor trailer" in which 64 people were suspected of illegally entering the United States, the DOJ said in a release on Wednesday.

According to the department, Homero Zamorano Jr., 45, who lives in Pasadena, Texas, was arrested by the SAPD after he was seen "hiding in the brush" following a failed attempt to escape. Authorities later confirmed that he matched the description and attire of a driver who was seen on surveillance footage — provided to the HSI from the Laredo Sector Border Patrol — driving across an immigration checkpoint in a tractor trailer.

RELATED: San Antonio Mayor Hopes for Justice Following 'Horrific Human Tragedy' of Tractor-Trailer Deaths

Eric Gay/AP/Shutterstock © Provided by People Eric Gay/AP/Shutterstock

He has been charged with one count of alien smuggling resulting in death and could face up to life in prison or the death penalty if he's convicted, per the DOJ.

Forty-eight people were found dead at the scene, HSI confirmed; 22 were Mexican nationals while seven were from Guatemala and two from Honduras. Authorities couldn't identify the origin of 17 of the deceased but it's believed they are undocumented non-citizens.

"HSI confirmed the undocumented status of the deceased individuals by utilizing a mobile fingerprint device," the department noted.

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Video: 46 migrants found dead inside tractor trailer in San Antonio (INSIDER)

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Sixteen other individuals were taken from the scene a nearby hospital where five died, bringing the death toll to 53. "Officials are working with foreign consulate offices for proper notifications to family members of the deceased," the DOJ said.

A spokesperson for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) confirmed to PEOPLE earlier Wednesday that three additional suspects were in custody.

In its release, the DOJ identified the three other suspects.

RELATED: Death Toll of San Antonio Tractor-Trailer Tragedy Rises to 53: Migrants Were 'Abandoned,' Says Archbishop

Eric Gay/AP/Shutterstock Police block the scene where a truck with multiple dead bodies was discovered in San Antonio, Texas © Provided by People Eric Gay/AP/Shutterstock Police block the scene where a truck with multiple dead bodies was discovered in San Antonio, Texas

Christian Martinez, 28, was arrested in Palestine on Tuesday and is facing one count of conspiracy to transport illegal aliens resulting in death, per the DOJ. Authorities found Martinez after executing a search warrant on Zamorano's phone where there were alleged conversations between the two about the "smuggling event." Martinez, who had his first court appearance in Tyler, Texas, could also face up to life in prison or the death penalty if found guilty. He will be taken to San Antonio for the rest of his proceedings.

Mexican citizens Juan Claudio D'Luna-Mendez, 23, and Juan Francisco D'Luna-Bilbao, 48, are also in custody and made their first court appearances on Monday.

Their alleged connection to the incident was discovered after police confirmed the registration for the tractor trailer belonged to a San Antonio resident. "SAPD officers set up surveillance on the residence and observed two males leaving in separate trucks. After traffic stops on both trucks, the drivers were identified as D'Luna-Mendez and D'Luna-Bilbao," the DOJ said.

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D'Luna-Bilbao also allegedly had a handgun in the center console of the truck he was driving, and more weapons were found after police executed a search warrant at his home.

Authorities found that he and D'Luna-Mendez were in the U.S. illegally and both have been charged with one count of possession of a weapon by an alien illegally in the U.S. in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 922(g)(5). They could each face up to 10 years in prison.

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