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Survivor of deadly smuggling attempt testifies

/ Source: The Associated Press

A Honduran immigrant who survived the nation’s deadliest human smuggling attempt described Wednesday how he grabbed a cell phone and made two futile calls to 911 for help with people dying around him.

“We are in a trailer ... ahead of Harlingen and Sarita. We’re in a trailer,” the panicked voice of Matias Rafael Medina Flores was heard in Spanish on a recording of the second call. Both 911 calls — filled with static — cut off before he could tell authorities the exact location of the trailer.

The testimony came in the smuggling trial of Tyrone Williams, who is accused of abandoning the truck in South Texas and causing 19 immigrants to die in May 2003. Williams, 34, could get the death penalty if convicted.

Medina said he and his companions shouted and banged against the trailer’s walls and punched out a signal light, but Williams ignored them. They felt like prisoners, he said.

Medina also told jurors that he is still haunted by the memory of watching a 5-year-old Mexican boy die in the stifling heat of the trailer.

“He was suffocating with the heat. He was crying so loud that he was making us feel what he felt,” Medina said, testifying in Spanish through an interpreter.

Defense alleges language barrier
Defense lawyer Craig Washington questioned whether Williams could have heard any screams or known people were dying.

The defense also says that while Williams is guilty of transporting the immigrants, he tried to help by giving them water but couldn’t understand their pleas because he didn’t speak Spanish.

But witness Scott Reuter testified he remembered thinking something was wrong when he saw the tractor-trailer as he drove home. He saw hands holding on to the light that had been punched out, and one hand was also waving a bandanna, he said.

“It was very frantic-looking to me. To me, it was obvious something was wrong,” said Reuter, who later called 911 about what he saw.

Williams is being tried on 58 counts of harboring and transporting illegal immigrants.

Williams, a Jamaican citizen who lives in Schenectady, N.Y., is the only one of 14 defendants in the case who could get the death penalty. Federal law allows the death penalty in fatal smuggling cases.