The First Hour
ENRIQUE ORTEGA WAS the last to board the truck. He was thinking about an old Mexican movie about immigrants who died inside a water truck. After the doors were shut from the outside, he pressed his body against one of them. Then he felt the truck lurch into movement.
“Five minutes later, I started to sweat, a lot,” Enrique remembers. “It was hot. Everyone was sweating.”
After leaving Harlingen at approximately ten o’clock at night, the truck headed north on U.S. 77. It would soon have to pass through the town of Sarita, where the immigration service had an inspection booth, and then the driver, Tyrone Williams, would head for Kingsville and on to Robstown. When he set out on the road that night, Tyrone had no idea that later he would be asked to continue the journey all the way to Houston.
The immigrants did not fit comfortably in the truck’s trailer. Some remained on their feet, leaning against the walls, while others squatted or sat with their knees pressed against their chests. The metal floor was lined with thin bars that ran the length of the trailer, to facilitate the manipulation of heavy cargo loads. This made the floor an extremely painful place to sit. Trailers are not made for transporting human cargo.
Everyone in the trailer was sweating furiously. It is impossible to calculate the exact temperature, but after a few minutes, it might very well have risen above 100 degrees. As hot as a sauna. Right from the start, the immigrants began to experience the first symptoms of extreme heat exposure: dizziness, nausea, an increasingly rapid heartbeat, and disorientation.
When the ambient temperature rises, the human body naturally begins to perspire. When the perspiration evaporates, the skin is refreshed. But conditions were far from normal inside the trailer. The