On the deadly stretch of highway where Aguilera-Mederos said he lost his brakes, speed limits...

On the deadly stretch of highway where Aguilera-Mederos said he lost his brakes, speed limits for trucks over 30,000 pounds are posted at 45 mph. A sign advises drivers there's a runaway ramp ahead.

Photo: Google Earth screen capture

Following outrage and disbelief from the trucking industry and others, truck driver Rogel Aguilera-Mederos’ 110-year sentence for a Colorado crash that killed four could be reduced.

Aguilera-Mederos, 26, was sentenced to 110 years in prison for his April 2019 actions resulting in a pileup on Interstate 70 that left four people dead.

A district court judge in Colorado has scheduled a hearing for Jan. 13 to consider the District Attorney’s office request to reduce the 110-year sentence to 20-30 years. In a Dec. 27 hearing, Judge Bruce Jones sought to resolve procedural questions given the unprecedented nature of the case, in which the prosecution initiated the request for a lower sentence, rather than the defense, according to CNN.

The crash occurred on a part of the interstate where commercial vehicles are limited to 45 mph because of the steep descent. Aguilera-Mederos has said his brakes failed. He was convicted earlier this year on 27 charges, including four counts of vehicular homicide. Under Colorado law, prosecutors only had to prove that he acted recklessly.

In sentencing Aguilera-Mederos, Judge Jones said he felt compelled to issue the stiff prison term due to mandatory minimum sentencing standards in Colorado that require the sentences to be served consecutively rather than concurrently.

Aguilera-Mederos told CNN the state's sentencing laws need reform. "The law doesn't really distinguish between people like Mr. Mederos, who is not a danger to society, and other people that are sentenced to life that are a danger to society," James Colgan, the attorney, said on CNN's "New Day."

In a statement regarding the request for a shorter sentence, First Judicial District Attorney Alexis King explained, “As the jury found, Mr. Aguilera-Mederos knowingly made multiple active choices that resulted in the death of four people, serious injuries to others, and mass destruction.” The 20- to 30-year range “reflects an appropriate outcome for that conduct, which was not an accident…we believe that this hearing is the best path to securing justice for everyone involved.”

The judge scheduled the Jan. 13 hearing to give attorneys time to research procedural questions. According to CNN, both the prosecution and defense said they want to ensure any resentencing decisions don't interfere with the defendant's right to appeal.

110-Year Sentence Causes National Outcry

Truck drivers around the country have decried the sentence, calling on social media for a boycott of the state using hashtags such as #NoTrucksToColorado and #NoTrucksColorado. It has even attracted the attention of celebrities such as Kim Kardashian West. Some critics believe the fact that Aguilera-Mederos is a Cuban immigrant led to a harsher verdict and sentence than would have been the case with a white defendant.

Nearly 5 million people have signed a change.org petition asking Gov. Jared Polis to grant clemency to Aguilera-Mederos, or commutation for time served. That petition points the finger at the trucking company that employed him as bearing at least some of the responsibility for the crash.

On Dec. 21, according to published reports, supporters of Aguilera-Mederos and his family rallied at the Colorado Capitol, where they asked Gov. Polis to commute the sentence.

DA King said her office has "also been working with the governor’s office to ensure that the victims and their loved ones are heard both in this process and the pending clemency application with the governor.”

One of the groups asking for the governor to address the situation was the Colorado Motor Carriers Association.

“The accident on I-70 on April 25, 2019, was a tragedy for many parties,” said Greg Fulton, president of the association, in a statement. “While we recognize the seriousness of this incident, we were shocked by the sentence and believe that it is too harsh.” The association has asked Gov. Polis to consider a reduced sentence.

“We are requesting a reduced sentence but not asking that the driver be exonerated,” Fulton told HDT in an e-mail. “The facts clearly point to him being at fault, but the sentence is way out of line. We are looking to make this a teaching moment and identifying the strategies to avoid other accidents like this.”

Many critics have questioned whether Aguilera-Mederos was properly trained for mountain driving, and Fulton agreed that was likely a contributor to the crash. However, he also noted that the driver ignored posted speed limits for trucks and signage indicating that drivers use lower gears and bypassed a runaway truck ramp designed specifically for this type of situation.

Updated 6 p.m. EST for latest on court hearing date.

About the author
Deborah Lockridge

Deborah Lockridge

Editor and Associate Publisher

Reporting on trucking since 1990, Deborah is known for her award-winning magazine editorials and in-depth features on diverse issues, from the driver shortage to maintenance to rapidly changing technology.

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