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11 Dead in Rail Car Not Alone in Risk

October 16, 2002

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DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) _ Eleven people found dead after being trapped in a grain car for at least four months are among tens of thousands who take the risk of sneaking a ride on the nation’s freight trains, many to avoid being caught crossing the border.

The victims, presumed to be Mexican immigrants, likely boarded the train in Texas or across the border in Mexico, authorities say.

More than 95,000 migrants were apprehended riding in freight trains during fiscal year 2001, according to U.S. Border Patrol statistics. During that period, authorities found three dead immigrants on the trains.

Workers at a grain elevator in Dension, about 60 miles northeast of Omaha, Neb., discovered the victims Monday as they prepared to clean grain cars. Local authorities sealed the car, which was shipped overnight to Des Moines.

The car had been latched from the outside and there was no evidence of food or water inside, Sheriff Tom Hogan said. He said it was difficult to count the huddled bodies; authorities said there were as many as 11.

The victims may have become delirious and suffered hallucinations before succumbing to the high temperatures that built up inside the covered, steel train car, medical officials said Tuesday.

The medical examiner will try to determine causes of death, and authorities will then begin trying to identify the remains.

The rail car left Matamoros, Mexico, in June and was stored in Oklahoma for a few months before being shipped to Denison.

It’s not clear where the victims boarded the train, but authorities said it’s likely they jumped aboard in the United States.

``Right now, we have strict measures to scan railcars passing through the international bridges,″ said Rick Pauza, spokesman for the U.S. Customs Service.

In June, a dog helped authorities find 26 people who had been trapped inside two grain hopper cars in Combes, Texas, for a few hours. Some of them were dehydrated.

``Had it not been for the canine they might have ended up in the same predicament these other folks did,″ said Xavier Rios, a supervisory agent for the Border Patrol in McAllen, Texas.

Julio Salinas, another supervisory agent, said illegal immigrants usually board the train in the United States after they are smuggled across the Rio Grande.

The numbers of apprehensions made on freight trains has grown, from 84,000 in 1998 to more than 89,000 for 10 months of fiscal year 2002.

The number of deaths of migrants attempting to use freight trains to gain illegal entry into the U.S. in the last five years has been as low as three in 2001 and as high as 17 in 1999, according to the Border Patrol.

Jose Virues, a spokesman for the Mexican Counsul in Brownsville, Texas, said they send out pamphlets and posters to warn possible immigrants about the dangers of border crossings.

``We have sent to our communities in Mexico posters telling them ’look this happened, this is real, this is not a joke, this has happened to people. It could be you, just consider this situation.‴

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On the Net: http://www.ins.usdoj.gov/graphics/lawenfor/bpatrol/

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