SCHALLER -- The owner of a small, family owned Sioux City-area trucking company said Monday he knows nothing about how dozens of immigrants became packed inside the trailer of an 18-wheeler registered to his company.
A trailer registered to Schaller, Iowa-based Pyle Transportation Inc. was found parked in the searing heat outside a San Antonio Walmart over the weekend. Ten of the passengers died and more than 15 others were hospitalized with extreme dehydration.
Owner Brian Pyle, 34, told an Associated Press reporter Monday he had no knowledge of any human smuggling and expressed shock and bewilderment over how so many people could have been crammed into a trailer that had his name on it.
"I'm absolutely sorry it happened. I really am. It's shocking," he said outside the company's office near the tiny downtown of the Sac County village of 750.
Pyle said he had reached a deal to sell the trailer to a person in Mexico and hired one of the company's former drivers, James Matthew Bradley Jr. of Clearwater, Fla., as an independent contractor to drive the trailer to a drop-off point in the border city of Brownsville, Texas.
He declined to identify the purchaser or say where in Brownsville the trailer was to be delivered. The county treasurer's office declined to say whether paperwork transferring the truck's title had been filed.
Bradley was charged Monday with transporting immigrants who were in the United States illegally, resulting in the deaths. He told investigators that he was transporting the trailer for his boss from Iowa to Brownsville and made some stops along the way. He said he was unaware people were inside until he parked and got out to urinate.
The driver claimed he was not given a delivery time or address.
He told authorities that he had stopped in Laredo, Texas -- which would have been out of his way if he were traveling directly to Brownsville -- to get the truck washed and detailed before heading back 150 miles north to San Antonio. From there, he would have had to drive 275 miles south again to get to Brownsville.
Pyle said there was no reason for the driver to stop in Laredo and San Antonio.
Federal records show the company claims 15 drivers and 18 trucks that haul fresh produce, meat, food, paper products and other freight. The company reported logging 830,000 miles in 2013, the latest year for which figures were available.
The Pyle family has been involved in the trucking business for decades, but Pyle Transportation was formed in 2006.
The AP reports Pyle Transportation has a history of safety and tax violations and financial problems, according to public records. Pyle refused to discuss his company's prior legal problems, saying the focus should be on issues surrounding the deaths.
"It should be about what happened in Texas and not my company," he told AP reporters.
Multiple calls by the Journal to the company's listed number were not answered Monday afternoon.
Sunday's incident may evoke memories of a similar discovery 15 years ago in Denison, Iowa, when a worker at the Farm Service Co-op and Archer Daniels Midland elevators opened a grain hopper for inspection and found the remains of 11 immigrants, who were presumably being smuggled north into the U.S. from Mexico or Central America.
The “coffin on wheels” at Denison contained external locks only. No water, food or rescue for victims like 18-year-old Byron Acevedo of Guatemala, who ignored the pleas of his older siblings, left the family farm in Guatemala and boarded the train, sold on a promise of prosperity north of the Rio Grande.
Acevedo knowingly entered the U.S. illegally, a pawn in a smuggling operation that sent four men to prison.
Authorities later determined that the rail-car left Matamoros, Mexico, four months prior to its discovery in Denison, and crossed into the U.S. at Brownsville, Texas. The unit, which contained no grain, sat idle in Oklahoma until Oct. 10, 2002, when it was pulled north to Denison.
Authorities didn’t know at the time if the victims found at Denison died of suffocation, starvation or succumbed to the heat.