BOULEVARD, Calif. – Seventy-seven people who entered the United States illegally were found packed inside a sweltering truck near the Mexico border, and the driver was charged with transporting people for financial gain, authorities said.
Five children were among those found Monday evening in the cargo area of a brown truck painted to resemble a United Parcel Service vehicle, authorities said.
The California Highway Patrol pulled the truck over because it had no tags and was weaving on Old Highway 80 in Boulevard, a tiny desert community in San Diego County about five miles from the border.
A U.S. Border Patrol agent passing by on patrol stopped and asked the CHP officer if he would like assistance, the Union-Tribune said, citing a criminal complaint.
When the agent approached, he saw the truck was riding low. The agent "could smell body odor mixed with a distinct type of pungent soap which is commonly used in Mexico," according to the criminal complaint filed Tuesday.
The records say the driver gave permission for the agent to open the truck.
Inside, he saw people sweating and standing shoulder-to-shoulder in the hot cargo area, the complaint said, noting they were from Mexico and some acknowledged they had entered the U.S. illegally.
The driver, Shawn Lee Seiler, said he was a U.S. citizen, "stated that he is an alien smuggler" and expected to be paid $100 per immigrant, according to the complaint.
Seiler had been told he would be carrying 50 people in the truck to San Diego and was surprised to learn there were 77, the documents state.
Seiler and two men who previously had been deported to Mexico were charged Tuesday in San Diego federal court with transporting of "certain aliens" for financial gain. The two men also were charged with being deportees who were in the country illegally.
Messages left for Seiler's court-appointed attorney, Nancy Bryn Rosenfeld, were not immediately returned Wednesday.
A similar scene greeted authorities last week in Texas when Border Patrol agents found 76 immigrants, including 13 children, lying on the floor or crouched against the walls in a tractor-trailer rig.
The immigrants from Mexico and Central America were found when the semitrailer rig was stopped at a border checkpoint about 35 miles north of Laredo.
Smuggling organizations "view these individuals as mere commodities without regard for their safety," Gabriel Acosta, assistant chief patrol agent for the Laredo Border Patrol sector, said Monday.
Last July, 10 people died as they were being smuggled through Texas. Thirty-nine immigrants were found packed into a semitrailer in the parking lot of a San Antonio Walmart. Eight were already dead and two died at hospitals.
The truck's refrigeration system wasn't working and the day's temperature had climbed to 101 degrees.
The truck driver later pleaded guilty to conspiracy and to transporting immigrants resulting in death.
Information from: The San Diego Union-Tribune, http://www.utsandiego.com