SAN ANTONIO, Texas - Brandon Martinez can barely speak a few words: “water,” “Dad,” “bathroom.”
The 16-year-old Mexican is one of the survivors of a hellish human smuggling truck journey from Laredo to San Antonio, Texas, which left some 10 undocumented immigrants dead and 30 more hospitalized on Sunday. He’s now in recovery at North Central Baptist Hospital.
"The few things my son can tell me, he pronounces with slurred speech. I ask if he knows where he is and he says “Yes,” says the young man’s Mexican father, José de Jesús Martínez, 43.
Both men are stuck in the hospital room, where the door is guarded by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents. Both are undocumented.
"They (the ICE officers) have told me they do not want to bother me. They wish me luck for my son and they tell me that I can quietly go about the hospital and that they will not bother me,” Martínez, who lives in Denver, Colorado, told Univision News.
To avoid any problems, the older Martínez said he only leaves the room to go to the bathroom, "which is only 20 steps away.” He eats what the hospital gives him, as well as whatever the family lawyer brings. "Yesterday I was fortunate that someone else brought me food,” he said.
The trucking company linked to the deaths has a history of flouting federal laws, financial troubles and tangles with prosecutors, regulators and tax collectors, according to public records and interviews with former drivers, AP reported on Thursday.
One of the drivers for Pyle Transportation was charged Monday in the deaths of 10 immigrants found in a sweltering trailer in San Antonio's 100-degree heat.
"Hi Dad, I’m in Laredo"
When Brandon Martinez called his parents to tell them his plans to come to the United States, he’d already crossed the border, his father said. He’d been in Laredo, Texas, for two days. "He had told us that he wanted to go. He left without telling anyone from Aguascalientes, without permission from his mother, from me or his stepmom," said his father.
"I asked him, 'How do you know that you are in Laredo?' And he told me that it was what he had been told."
The determined youth told his father that he had already made the arrangements to move on. He then asked for help with the $7,500 he needed to get on the truck that would take him the three hours to San Antonio.
From that moment, his father said he felt nervous. "I have experience of what those journeys are like," he said.
But there was no way to convince him no. The next time he heard about his son was Sunday at 7:00 a.m. when he received a call that Brandon was in a hospital.
He could not make the trip immediately because of fears of being detained by immigration officials. After consulting a lawyer, he finally reunited with his son on Monday.
In photos: The truck in which 10 immigrants died in a Texas smuggling operation
The majority of the victims of the weekend’s tragedy were Mexicans. Guatemalan authorities also confirmed the death of one citizen, and two others wounded.
Investigators are scrutinizing Pyle Transportation’s claim that it knew nothing about an operation that federal authorities have described as sophisticated and possibly linked to a Mexican cartel.
The driver, 60-year-old James "Bear" Bradley Jr., has told investigators that he was unaware any immigrants were in the trailer, adding that he knew its refrigeration system didn't work, according to the complaint against him. He heard their pleas only after stopping Sunday at a Walmart to urinate, he said.
Investigators say dozens of immigrants were packed into the dark trailer after being smuggled across the border.
On its website, which has since been taken down, Pyle advertised its fleet of high-end rigs and boasted of delivering refrigerated shipments of meat and produce on time to customers from its rural Iowa base. The site touted love of country, faith in God and the company's slogan: "Keepin' it Cool Since 1950."
Return to Mexico, or not
José de Jesús Martínez says that at the North Central Baptist Hospital - one of the seven hospitals in Laredo that received the immigrants - the rest of the survivors who were detained have already been released. But Brandon still has no date for departure, the doctors and nurses tell him.
Martinez’s lawyer, Alex Galves, says he will not allow ICE officials to talk to his client, especially considering that 13 survivors remain in custody and were transferred to a federal court on Wednesday to be questioned, according to a Department of Justice document seen by Univision News.
"He's too ill to be arrested. I do not want immigration to talk to him," said Galves.
For now, the father hopes the United States can give them a second chance. "I don’t want to go back to Mexico," he said. But his son, he says, "feels disappointed in the American dream. He says he does want to go back."
Information from AP was used in this article.