Driver faces federal charges after dozens of immigrants found in 18-wheeler

“It was hot like fire. We couldn’t breathe. We were going to die,” one migrant told investigators.

Codi Denise Hartman is facing federal charges in connection with human smuggling case. (Copyright 2022 by KPRC Click2Houston - All rights reserved.)

Federal charges have been filed against the driver of an 18-wheeler that is at the center of an immigrant smuggling investigation. Codi Denise Hartman is accused of transporting the immigrants from Donna to Jackson County, where the rig ran out of gas.

According to court documents, a Texas Department of Public Safety trooper spotted the disabled rig on May 6 on the side of Highway 59 two miles north of Ganado. Investigators said when the trooper asked Hartman what she was hauling she replied, ‘energy drinks.’

Court documents read Hartman could not produce a bill of lading and the license plates on the cab and trailer were fictitious. The trooper then noticed several people inside the trailer through a crack in the door.

“Multiple subjects began to bang on the doors and walls requesting help,” court documents read.

Investigators write when the trooper opened the door, 60-100 “began to flee on foot in different directions.” A total of 65 people were eventually apprehended and court documents indicate all were determined to be in the country illegally.

Investigators write Hartman said she received a call from a person who said they knew her through a mutual friend and offered her $800 to make a five-hour drive. Hartman told investigators she picked up the trailer in Donna, Texas with an unidentified woman in the passenger seat. Court documents read Hartman said the woman took a picture of her driver’s license and threatened her family if she spoke to law enforcement.

READ THE FULL CRIMINAL COMPLAINT

Hartman then said she drove to Jackson County before the 18-wheeler ran out of diesel fuel. Hartman said the woman riding with her got out and started walking along Highway 59. Hartman said she waited in the cab for about an hour before the trooper arrived.

“Hartman stated that she never opened the back doors to the trailer, and she thought there were energy drinks in the back of the trailer,” federal court documents read.

However, investigators said a check of Hartman’s phone revealed a voicemail that stated, “Look I’m sorry to bother you a lot but at the next truck stop I need u to stop and back the truck in where no one will see u n open the truck n check on the people make sure there good but check with your own eyes… But please check on them make sure they breathing.”

Investigators write the refrigeration in the trailer was not working and several of the migrants told them they were not given any water. Several of the migrants stated they had been kept at a “stash house” near the border for several days before being loaded into the back of the 18-wheeler around midnight. All said they were told they were being taken to Houston.

“It was hot like fire. We couldn’t breathe. We were going to die,” one migrant told investigators.

Several of the migrants said the heat inside the trailer became unbearable.

“Before the trailer door was finally opened, she had begun choking and felt as if she was dying,” another immigrant told investigators.

A detention hearing for Hartman is scheduled for May 12. KPRC 2 reached out to Hartman’s attorney, but the attorney declined commenting at this time.