Four indictments announced in grisly 2022 human smuggling case

Trucking news and briefs for Wednesday, June 28, 2023:

Four more indicted in relation to smuggled individuals' deaths in 2022

Four Mexican nationals were arrested Monday, June 26, in San Antonio, Houston, and Marshall, Texas, for their alleged roles in a tractor-trailer smuggling incident that resulted in 53 deceased and 11 injured undocumented migrants a year ago.

The driver of the truck, Homero Zamorano Jr., and three others -- Christian Martinez, Juan Claudio D’Luna-Mendez and Juan Francisco D’Luna-Bilbao -- were charged last year in the case, with the driver facing up to life in prison or possibly the death penalty for his involvement.

According to court documents, between December 2021 and June 2022, Riley Covarrubias-Ponce, 30; Felipe Orduna-Torres, 28; Luis Alberto Rivera-Leal, 37; and Armando Gonzales-Ortega, 53, are alleged to have participated in an organization which illegally brought adults and children from Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico into the United States.

The alleged smugglers worked in concert to transport the migrants by sharing routes, guides, stash houses, trucks, trailers, and transporters to consolidate costs, minimize risks, and maximize profit. The organization allegedly maintained a variety of tractors and trailers for their smuggling operations, some of which were stored at a private parking lot in San Antonio.

[Related: At least 50 migrants dead in alleged human smuggling attempt involving tractor-trailer]

The indictment alleges that in the days leading up to June 27, 2022, Covarrubias-Ponce, Orduna-Torres, and others exchanged the names of undocumented individuals who would be smuggled in a tractor-trailer. The four new defendants charged this week allegedly orchestrated the retrieval of an empty tractor-trailer and its corresponding hand-off to the driver on June 27.

Orduna-Torres allegedly provided the Laredo, Texas, address at which Zamorano loaded the migrants onto the tractor-trailer. The indictment also claims that Gonzalez-Ortega traveled to Laredo to meet the tractor-trailer, where at least 66 undocumented individuals, including eight children and one pregnant woman, were loaded into the back to be smuggled. Martinez, Covarrubias-Ponce, Orduna-Torres, Rivera-Leal, and Gonzales-Ortega then allegedly coordinated, facilitated, passed messages, and kept each other updated on the tractor-trailer’s progress.

Some of the defendants charged were allegedly aware that the trailer’s reefer unit was malfunctioning and would not blow any cool air to the people inside. When members of the organization met the rig at the end of its nearly three-hour journey to San Antonio, they opened the doors to find 48 of the migrants, including the pregnant woman, already dead. Sixteen of the undocumented individuals were transported to hospitals, and five of them died there.

Each defendant is charged with one count of conspiracy to transport illegal aliens resulting in death, conspiracy to transport illegal aliens resulting in serious bodily injury and placing lives in jeopardy, transportation of illegal aliens resulting in death, and transportation of illegal aliens resulting in serious bodily injury and placing lives in jeopardy. If convicted on the top counts, they each face a maximum penalty of life in prison.

[Related: Driver in Texas human smuggling operation faces possibility of death penalty]

Used truck prices down in May while sales increased

ACT Research May 2023 used truck reportClass 8 used-truck sales jumped 12% in May from April, while prices fell by 3%.ACT ResearchACT Research reported Tuesday in its latest “State of the Industry: U.S. Classes 3-8 Used Trucks” report that Class 8 retail volumes (same dealer sales) were up 12% last month, compared to April.

Average mileage on trucks sold was flat, while average prices were down 3% and age 1%. Longer term, the firm said average age, price, and miles were lower, with volumes up year over year.

“Sales usually slow 4% to 5% in May, so the increase was not only uncharacteristic, but also presents a bit of a conundrum in the context of the current economic and freight environments,” said Steve Tam, Vice President at ACT Research. “As owner-operators and smaller fleets in particular exit the industry, inventory continues to increase." Tam believed this has been giving remaining fleets and owner-operators "more options than they have had in a long time” for purchasing.

Tam added that sales at auction increased 32% in May over April.

“Dealers continued their risk-averse track, selling 19% fewer wholesale units compared to April,” he said. “Combined, the total market swelled 13% month over month in May. Compared to May 2022, the retail market was 17% larger. The auction and wholesale segments also expanded, 43% and 79%, respectively. Their combined performance drove the total market 31% higher year over year.”

He concluded that despite current anemic economic and soft freight conditions, “the comparison highlights just how tough conditions were in 2022 with respect to scarce inventory.”

Similarly, J.D. Power reported May’s used late-model truck prices continued to slip as the market continued to work its way through pent-up supply.

J.D. Power reported model year 2021 trucks saw the most significant drop in prices. In May, a 2021 truck benchmarked at $79,800, 21.8% or $22,200 lower than in April. 

Overall, though, the average sleeper tractor sold in May was 72 months old with 471,232 miles on the odometer. It was worth $72,064, J.D. Power said. Compared to April's measure, May's average sleeper was four months older with 29,828 more miles and worth $2,503 less. 

Mack MD Electric now available for order

Mack MD ElectricThe Mack MD Electric is now available for order and is eligible for a California HVIP voucher.Mack TrucksMack Trucks announced Wednesday that its Mack MD Electric, the first medium-duty electric vehicle for the brand, is now available for order. Customers interested in ordering the Mack MD Electric should contact their local Mack dealer.

The MD Electric complements Mack’s highly efficient, diesel-powered Mack MD model sibling, which has continually experienced growing customer demand since its introduction in 2020. The addition of a zero-tailpipe emissions battery-electric vehicle (BEV) to the Mack medium-duty lineup also supports the company’s long-term sustainability goals. 

The MD Electric is the second electric vehicle introduced by Mack Trucks to the industry. The first was the Mack LR Electric, which went into production in December 2021.

The Mack MD Electric will be available in Class 6 and Class 7 ratings like its diesel counterpart. The Class 6 model has a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) of 25,995 pounds, and the Class 7 model has a GVWR of 33,000 pounds. Both models are exempt from the 12% Federal Excise Tax (FET).

The MD Electric’s three-phase Permanent Magnet Synchronous motor and all on-board accessories are powered by Nickel Manganese Cobalt (NMC) Oxide lithium-ion batteries, either in a 150-kWh or 240-kWH configuration. The MD Electric can be charged through AC or DC charging units. The regenerative braking system helps recapture energy from the multiple stops the vehicle makes each day.

The Mack MD Electric is approved to be a part of California’s Hybrid and Zero-Emission Truck and Bus Voucher Incentive Project (HVIP), which offers point-of-sale vouchers to increase the affordability of expensive advanced-tech vehicles.

[Related: California banning diesel truck sales in 2036]

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