Suspected smuggler arrested for deaths of migrants

MEXICO CITY -- Mexican police have arrested a suspected smuggler for the deaths of 11 migrants who were trapped inside a grain car in Iowa last year, law authorities said Sunday.

Lorenzo Cuellar de Lira is part of an international smuggling gang responsible for helping the migrants board the train on the fatal trip, the attorney general's office said in a statement.

It was unclear where and when he was arrested, and a spokesman for the federal attorney general's office did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Workers at a grain elevator in Denison, Iowa -- 60 miles northeast of Omaha, Neb. -- discovered the victims in October as they prepared to clean grain cars.

The car had been latched from the outside and there was no evidence of food or water inside. Two cousins from Los Conos, Mexico -- Roberto Esparza and Omar Esparza -- were among those killed.

The rail car apparently left Matamoros, Mexico, in June, immigration authorities said. Matamoros, near McAllen, Texas, once was a major center for illegal immigrants seeking to enter the United States.

Authorities said in June they had the impression the bodies were in the rail car for at least four months before being found.

Thousands of Mexicans try to cross the U.S. border illegally every year.

Last June, a dog helped authorities find 26 people 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," Xavier Rios, a supervisory agent for the Border Patrol in McAllen, Texas, said at the time.

In 1987, Border Patrol agents found 18 Mexican immigrants dead and one barely alive in a boxcar left on a rail siding in Sierra Blanca, Texas. The survivor told authorities the man who smuggled them across the border put them aboard a boxcar in El Paso and locked the door.

Temperatures in the boxcar reached 130 degrees and 18 men suffocated. The man who survived had punched a breathing hole in the floor with a railway spike.

The Border Patrol said the number of migrants dying while using freight trains to illegally enter the United States in the last five years has ranged from three in 2001 to 17 in 1999.