This handout X-ray file photo, provided by Chiapas State Attorney General Office, shows, according to the attorney’s office, migrants from Latin America and Asia inside a truck heading to the US at a checkpoint near Tuxtla Gutierrez, in Mexico’s southern Chiapas state. Big rigs emerged as a popular smuggling method in the early 1990s amid a surge in U.S. border enforcement in San Diego and El Paso, Texas, which were then the busiest corridors for illegal crossings. (Photo by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Fiancee: Driver in truck trafficking case helped people

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — When a lifelong truck driver called his fiancee Sunday from a jail more than 1,000 miles from home, he had only a few minutes to describe the gruesome events that led to him being charged with a crime in which he could face the death penalty.

Darnisha Rose said James Matthew Bradley Jr. claimed he had no idea how so many people — maybe 90 or more — came to be crammed inside his pitch-black trailer boiling in the Texas heat, taking turns to breathe through a hole in the wall. Ten of the immigrants died.

Bradley, whose criminal history includes a conviction in a felony domestic violence case, told Rose that he’d stopped his truck at a Walmart in San Antonio and went inside to use the bathroom. The 60-year-old claimed that when he returned to his truck, he noticed the trailer rocking back and forth. He said he’d heard nothing before that, though the people in the back later told police they’d been frantically banging on the walls.

Bradley opened the door.

“He said he saw the people in there, laying everywhere,” Rose said Monday from her home in Louisville, Kentucky. “He said he didn’t know what to do, which way to go. He was crying, distraught. He was scared. You could tell it in his voice.”

Court documents say Bradley did not call 911 after discovering the suffering immigrants in the trailer. At least one of them was already dead and others were in such grave condition they had to be hospitalized for dehydration and heatstroke.

He now faces charges of illegally transporting immigrants for financial gain resulting in death, possibly punishable by life in prison or the death penalty.

Rose defended her fiance as a good man who would always try to help people in need, though she acknowledged he has a criminal history. She said he often used the nickname “Bear,” which is reflected as his middle name in some court documents that show his record dates back until at least the 1990s and spans multiple states.

In 1997, Bradley pleaded guilty in a felony domestic violence case in Colorado and was sentenced to two years’ probation, said Rich Orman, chief deputy district attorney for the 18th Judicial District in suburban Denver. Records indicate supervision of Bradley’s probation was transferred to Gainesville, Florida.

Then in 1998 he was arrested in Ohio and extradited to Colorado for violating his probation, Orman said. Records show that at that time, Bradley also was wanted by a Texas agency for an unknown charge. Another probation violation complaint came in 1999, but Bradley wasn’t arrested and returned to Colorado until 2003. He was sentenced to three years in a halfway house, but he violated terms of that sentence — apparently walking away from the facility — and in 2005 was sentenced to one year in a Colorado prison, Orman said.

He was released in 2007, according to the Department of Corrections, and remained on parole until 2009.

Authorities list Bradley as being from Clearwater, Florida. Rose said Bradley has been staying mostly in Louisville for a couple of years as his health worsened. Bradley had diabetes that he hadn’t properly treated and had to have a series of amputations, most recently the removal of his leg this spring.

He had worked for Pyle Transportation, a trucking company in Iowa, for several years, and was preparing to strike out on his own once he got a prosthetic this month.

In February, he purchased a custom Peterbilt truck for $90,000 from a company called Outlaw Iron in Wisconsin, according to Justin McDaniel, the company’s owner. He said he had never before met Bradley, who responded to an advertisement for the truck. Bradley came to Wisconsin to buy the truck, paid $50,000 cash and financed the remaining $40,000. The truck did not come with a trailer, McDaniel said.

“It’s hard to believe it, just from meeting the gentleman, he was a super nice guy, very stand-up guy,” McDaniel said. “I’m sure there’s more to the story than what we’re seeing.”

He showed a Florida driver’s license when making the purchase, McDaniel said.

Rose said Bradley grew up in Florida and moved around, spending most of his time on the road.

His commercial driver’s license was through the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, which originally issued it in 2004, according to state records.

McDaniel said he and Bradley texted each other a few times as they were wrapping up paperwork, and Bradley told him about his medical conditions.

Rose said he was finally able to leave Louisville on July 14 for his first trip in the new truck, and headed for Iowa to pick up a trailer from Pyle. She expected him to be gone about two weeks. Rose said she was sleeping when she missed a call from him around midnight eight days into the trip.

Rose said she tried calling him back, but didn’t reach him. The next time she heard from him was Sunday morning, when he called from jail.

She said he did not explain during their brief conversation how the immigrants might have been loaded into his trailer without him knowing about it.

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