It's been seven years since the human-smuggling tragedy in Victoria, in which 19 undocumented immigrants died and around 100 people suffered brutal conditions, trapped inside a tractor-trailer transporting them across Texas.
Late last week, however, the families of some of the people who perished filed a wrongful death lawsuit in Houston federal court against the owner of the tractor-trailer and its manufacturer.
On May 14, 2003, Tyrone Williams was behind the wheel of truck packed with undocumented immigrants. Temperatures inside the trailer reached unbearable heights and those locked inside began to suffocate. Desperate for air, the occupants, who were from Mexico and Central America, tired to punch holes in the walls and scratch their way out. Prosecutors reportedly called it a "rolling chamber of death."
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In 2007, Williams, who was accused of abandoning the trailer in Victoria after discovering that people were dying from dehydration inside, was sentenced to life in prison without parole. He was one of 14 people involved in the smuggling operation who were criminally charged.
In the recent federal court lawsuit, first reported by Courthouse News Service, two families of people who died blame the manufacturer of the trailer, claiming the company did not provide a ventilation system and designed the trailer so that anyone inside is trapped, with no rescue hatch or other way to escape.
"As a result of the dangerous and defective condition of the trailer," the lawsuit states, "including but not limited to the failure of the subject trailer to have any safety features, emergency switches, and/or escape mechanisms to permit persons trapped in the trailer to escape, to request assistance, or have access to fresh air ... plaintiffs were caused to suffer."
The families also blame the owner of the trailer for allowing Williams to drive the rig, claiming the company should have know that Williams had no training, experience or even a clue about how to operate it.