A long-haul truck driver arrested for driving a tractor-trailer so hot and so crammed with immigrants that 10 people died had his license to drive commercial trucks rescinded three months earlier.
Florida disqualified James Matthew Bradley Jr.’s commercial driving privileges on April 12 after he failed to provide the state with a current medical card, which federal law requires commercial drivers to submit to show they are physically fit for the road.
Alexis Bakofsky, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, said that federal law prohibits a driver from having a license in more than one state.
Authorities say Bradley’s truck was discovered Sunday morning in a Walmart parking lot crammed with dozens of immigrants. Ten of them died and many more were taken to the hospital and treated for dehydration and heat stroke.
Bradley, 60, faces charges of illegally transporting immigrants for financial gain resulting in death, possibly punishable by life in prison or the death penalty.
Florida records show that his medical card on file with the highway department expired on March 15 and he was notified to update it. He never did.
Bradley’s fiancee, Darnisha Rose, told The Associated Press that he is from Florida originally but had been spending most of his time in Louisville, Kentucky, as his health worsened. Bradley had diabetes that he hadn’t properly treated, she said, and had to have a series of amputations, most recently the removal of his leg this spring.
Federal law requires commercial drivers to be screened by a doctor for serious medical conditions that might impair their ability to safely operate their vehicles.
“The medical card certification is extremely serious business. Drivers watch it like hawks because you can’t drive a truck without it,” said Kenneth S. Armstrong, the president of the Florida Trucking Association who reviewed Bradley’s driving record for the Associated Press. “When you’re moving a 50, 60, 70, 80,000-pound vehicle along the road, we hold those people to a higher health standard than a typical passenger car driver.”
Armstrong said the lack of a valid commercial license would have likely been caught had Bradley gone through an inspection station or been stopped by law enforcement.
But Bradley had not been out on the road for months.
Rose said Bradley, a lifelong truck driver, left Louisville on July 14 for his first trip since his leg was amputated in May. 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 leg this month, she said.
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. McDaniel 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.”
McDaniel said Bradley showed the Florida driver’s license when making the purchase.
Florida originally issued him a commercial license in 2004, according to state records. By then he already had a criminal history.
Bakofsky said the screening process for licensing commercial drivers focuses on their driving record and crimes related to traffic infractions.
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. He had been arrested the year before after his wife, visibly injured, told police he “beat her up,” an officer wrote in an affidavit.
“She continued to say that her husband also took a handgun, pulled the hammer back thus ‘cocking’ it, pointed it at her and told her he was going to kill her,” the affidavit says. His probation in that case was transferred to 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 — he apparently left the facility to look for a job and never returned — 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.
He has also been cited repeatedly over the years for violating federal motor carrier safety regulations in Iowa dating back to 1995. At least two of the tickets were for logging more hours than allowed. The most recent infraction came in April 2013, when he was ticketed for violating a rule that bars truckers from driving longer than 14 hours without a break. The citation shows that he was driving for Pyle Transportation. He was fined $127.50.
Rose defended her fiance as a good man who would always try to help people in need. She said he is beside himself over what happened and told her during a jailhouse call that he had no idea his trailer was packed with people until he was at Walmart and noticed it rocking back and forth. He flung the doors open and found the people inside, some already dead and dying.
Court documents indicate he did not call 911. Authorities were alerted by store employees.
Associated Press reporter James Anderson in Denver and researcher Monika Mathur in Washington contributed to this report.