The accused driver of the Texas migrant death truck tried to pass himself off as a victim when found, authorities said Wednesday — as a sick photo surfaced of him allegedly grinning at a checkpoint a few hours earlier.
Suspected rig-of-horrors operator Homero Zamorano, 45, was caught on camera smiling behind the wheel of the tractor-trailer when it passed through a US Border Patrol checkpoint in Encinal, Texas, just before 3 p.m. Monday, Mexican officials said.
The photo, posted online by the Mexican outlet Reforma, shows the seemingly happy-go-lucky Zamora as he leaned out of the driver’s window — about three hours before “stacks of bodies’’ were found in the sweltering truck abandoned on the outskirts of San Antonio, authorities said.
When Zamorano was nabbed in a nearby field, “he was very high on meth … and had to be taken to the hospital,” a law enforcement official told the San Antonio Express-News on Wednesday.
The death toll from the horrific human-smuggling incident rose to 53 on Wednesday.
Francisco Garduño, chief of Mexico’s National Immigration Institute, said at a news conference Wednesday that Zamorano was busted after trying to pretend he was one of the migrants.
“The driver was identified as Homero, who tried to pass himself off as one of the survivors, for which he was arrested with two other alleged perpetrators,” Garduño said, according to Mexico’s Vanguardia newspaper.
“The driver posed as a regular migrant to avoid arrest,’’ Garduño said.
Zamorano is a US citizen, according to the Mexican Consulate in San Antonio.
US Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) told the Associated Press on Wednesday that US authorities suspect that the victims boarded the truck in or around Laredo, Texas, with the truck then going through a border checkpoint northeast of the town on Interstate 35.
Encinal is about a 40-minute drive north and slightly east of Laredo on Interstate 35.
San Antonio authorities said they were alerted to the tragedy around 6 p.m. Monday after a city worker heard a cry for help from the back of the parked truck, which had apparently been abandoned because of a mechanical issue.
Law enforcement arrived to find the rear door to the trailer open with dozens of bodies inside, while others were lying on the ground nearby.
Temperatures in San Antonio reached a high of 103 degrees on Monday, and Garduño said 67 migrants were believed to have been stuffed into the truck.
After the grim discovery, investigators were able to trace the vehicle’s registration to a San Antonio address that they then placed under surveillance, authorities said.
They later arrested two other men, Juan Claudio D’Luna-Mendez and Juan Francisco D’Luna-Bilbao, when they each left the residence.
D’Luna-Bilbao and D’Luna-Mendez were both charged with possessing firearms while residing in the US illegally, according to the criminal complaints.
It wasn’t immediately clear what alleged involvement, if any, they had in the smuggling tragedy or if they will face additional charges.
The driver is expected to be charged but remained in the hospital as of Tuesday night, a Mexican official said.
The US Attorney’s Office in San Antonio, which is prosecuting D’Luna-Bilbao and D’Luna-Mendez, declined to comment.
D’Luna-Mendez’s defense lawyer declined to comment and D’Luna-Bilbao’s didn’t immediately return an email from The Post.
The Bexar County Medical Examiner’s Office said 37 victims had potentially been identified.
The 40 males and 13 females include two young sisters originally from Guatemala, Carla and Griselda Carac Tambriz.
The victims are believed to have come from Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.