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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

Driver Confesses in Immigrant Deaths

Aired May 15, 2003 - 19:01   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANDERSON COOPER, HOST: Prosecutors today filed federal charges against a truck driver who allegedly brought more than a hundred illegal immigrants into Texas. Eighteen of them died of asphyxiation, dehydration and heat-related causes. The victims range in age from 7 to 91.
CNN's Gary Tuchman joins us now live from Victoria, Texas -- Gary.

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, hello to you.

When authorities got to the scene here yesterday, even veteran investigators had a very difficult time seeing what they saw. And the initial call to come here was a 911 call that we have learned came from inside the truck itself. One of the immigrants had a cell phone, called 9-1-1 and pleaded for help.

A suspect is in jail right now. That suspect does not have an attorney just yet, but when he gets one, that attorney might have his or her work cut out for him or her because of what appeared to be incriminating statements.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TUCHMAN (voice-over): Tyrone Williams arrived for his initial appearance in court on charges of smuggling aliens well after he divulged disturbing details to police, according to court records.

A federal affidavit indicates Williams, from Schenectady, New York, acknowledged entering into an agreement with two men at the Mexican border to transport the immigrants. Williams told authorities he was to be paid $5,000 to take them from Harlingon (ph), Texas to Houston.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This was clearly done for profit. This was -- the motive behind this was greed on the part of all of the individuals that were associated with this.

TUCHMAN: Williams says in the affidavit he saw a light dangling from his trailer so he decided to stop at this truck stop in Victoria, Texas. He heard banging and screaming coming from the trailer. When he opened the back he told police it looked like there was, quote, something wrong with them.

He heard a female yell, "El nino," which in Spanish means the little boy. The 7-year-old boy was one of the 18 people who died.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The individuals that died apparently died from asphyxiation and heat stroke. The internal temperature of the truck was well beyond a hundred degrees for an extended period of time.

TUCHMAN: Each though he had been advised of his Miranda rights, authorities say Williams kept talking, saying he bought 20 bottles of water for the immigrants, but then panicked, unhooked his tractor from the trailer and drove off. He went to a hospital in Houston where nurses said he looked very anxious and nervous.

Police say Williams was taken into custody there after revealing details of the story. A woman who Williams claimed drove with him on the journey was also at the hospital, but left the scene and police are now on the lookout for her.

(on camera): Is it possible that some of them can permanently end up living in the United States?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Given their individual circumstances, that is possible, but right now we are using them as witnesses to a federal offense and we're going to handle them that way.

TUCHMAN: The trailer is equipped with a refrigeration system that was not on. Authorities wanted to test it to see if it was broken or just left off. A source tells us when they flipped the switch, the temperature quickly went from above 100 degrees to 62 degrees.

Anderson, back to you.

COOPER: Gary Tuchman, thanks very much.

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