July 24, 2008, 12:21AM
Trapped in rail car, 3 illegal immigrants call 911
By DANE SCHILLER
Copyright 2008 Houston Chronicle
It is not often that undocumented immigrants sneak into the United States and then alert authorities to their whereabouts, but three men trapped in a sweltering rail car had little choice and used a cell phone to call 911.
Smugglers had stashed two Mexicans and a Guatemalan in a grain hopper in the Rio Grande Valley and told them they would ride further north, said Daniel Doty, a spokesman for the Border Patrol's McAllen Sector.
As the temperature climbed Tuesday, the dehydrating men feared for their lives and reached for the phone.
"It gets hot very fast in those places," Doty said."Once inside a grain hopper, you can't get out; you have to be let out."
Agents rescued the men Tuesday afternoon thanks to one of them providing a portion of the Union Pacific identification number listed in the car.
A company emergency-response team was able to use a computer to track down the car within five minutes and provide rescuers with its location, Union Pacific regional spokeswoman Raquel Espinoza said.
"These individuals are very lucky to be alive," she said. "
It remains unclear when and where the men boarded the hopper or where they were headed.
Two of them were released to the Border Patrol on Wednesday after spending the night at the Christus Spohn Hospital Kleberg in Kingsville.
A third remained hospitalized in stable condition, said shift coordinator Linda Ann Garcia.
Illegal immigrants have previously used cell phones to call for help. Earlier this summer, three Chinese men lost in the South Texas brush lands called for rescue.
"We're starting to see more and more of that, where smugglers or members of the group actually carry a cell phone just in case," Doty said.
The McAllen Sector, which includes the Rio Grande Valley and hugs the Gulf Coast, is among the deadliest slices of the U.S.-Mexico border.
Agents assigned there reported finding 67 bodies in the first nine months of this fiscal year. That compares to 61 for all of 2007.