VICTORIA, Texas – Family members of immigrants who died in the back of an airtight trailer during a smuggling attempt gathered for a tearful memorial Saturday, placing flowers and flags from their home countries along a roadside where the trailer was found.
Dora Torres, originally from El Salvador (search), pointed to the spot where her teenage son Jorge died during the nation's deadliest smuggling attempt in May 2003. Seventeen people died inside the trailer of dehydration, overheating and suffocation. Two died later.
"I'm very sad on this day," Torres said in Spanish.
The Rev. Aureliano Santaolaya (search) of Houston prayed and sprinkled holy water on the flowers and flags, then read the names of the dead. The mourners responded by saying "present" after each name.
"As a human being, this moves me very deeply," said Carlos Gonzalez, the Houston-based consul general from Mexico (search), who also attended. "You can never be accustomed to things like this. These are tragedies we should all do more to stop. We need real solutions to all this."
Truck driver Tyrone Williams, who abandoned the trailer packed with more than 70 illegal immigrants along the highway in Victoria, was convicted in March of 38 counts of transporting illegal immigrants. He could get up to life in prison.
In December, two other defendants in the case were convicted of various smuggling charges and are awaiting sentencing. Five others previously pleaded guilty. One man remains a fugitive.