Millions push to reduce a truck driver’s 110-year sentence after a deadly accident

Four million people and counting have signed a petition calling for a reduced prison sentence for Rogel Lazaro Aguilera-Mederos, the semitruck driver behind a deadly 28-car pileup in Colorado in April 2019.

The truck slammed into a group of cars that were backed up in traffic on a stretch of Interstate 70 along the western edge of Denver, setting off a large fire and killing four people between the ages of 24 and 69. Aguilera-Mederos, a Cuban immigrant and Texas resident who was 23 at the time, survived the catastrophic crash with minor injuries.

Aguilera-Mederos has said that he lost control of the truck after its brakes failed and that he tried to pull over to the shoulder to avoid stopped traffic but another semi had already stopped there. The crash happened as he passed one of the state’s runaway truck ramps.

As Colorado Public Radio reports, a jury found Aguilera-Mederos guilty in October of vehicular homicide and 23 other charges, including six counts of first-degree assault, 10 counts of attempt to commit assault in the first degree, two counts of vehicular assault, one count of reckless driving and four counts of careless driving.

He was sentenced last week to the minimum available on all counts, to be served consecutively, totaling 110 years in prison.

Bruce Jones, the district judge in the case, said that he did not believe Aguilera-Mederos deserved life in prison but that Colorado law requires sentences for each count to be served consecutively instead of concurrently.

“If I had the discretion, it would not be my sentence,” he said, according to CBS Denver.

The decision has sparked outrage over Colorado’s minimum sentencing laws, as well as calls for Aguilera-Mederos’ punishment to be reduced.

Millions of people have signed a petition asking the state to reduce his sentence

A Change.org petition asking Gov. Jared Polis to commute Aguilera-Mederos’ sentence or grant him clemency has already garnered more than 4.3 million signatures.

“Rogel has said several times that he wishes he had the courage to crash and take his own life that day, this tragic accident wasn’t done with Intent, it wasnt a criminal act, it was an accident,” reads the petition, which was created three years ago and was revived last week.

The petition says that Aguilera-Mederos has no criminal history, passed all of his drug and alcohol tests and “complied with every single request” by case investigators and the courts. It adds that he took responsibility for his actions and apologized to the victims’ families, at least one of which has said it wouldn’t have given him a lifetime sentence, according to Colorado Public Radio.

The petition also says that the trucking company he worked for should be held accountable, as it’s had several mechanical violations since 2017.

The petition doesn’t name the company, but local and national outlets have identified it as Houston-based Castellano 03 Trucking LLC. Citing records from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, Global Trade magazine reported in 2019 that 30 violations were reported out of 19 inspections over the course of two years, some of which were related to brakes.

When asked about the push to reduce Aguilera-Mederos’ sentence, a spokesperson for Polis told NPR over email that the governor’s office is “aware of this issue.”

“The Governor and his team review each clemency application individually and we welcome an application from Rogel Lazaro Aguilera-Mederos and will expedite consideration but have not received one yet at this time,” he added.

NPR has reached out to Aguilera-Mederos’ lawyer, James Colgan, for comment.

A civil rights group, a newspaper and a cohort of truckers are also speaking up

Other efforts are underway to draw attention to the case and to try to shorten Aguilera-Mederos’ sentence.

Some truckers have said on social media that they will boycott Colorado during their routes.

Domingo Garcia, the national president of the League of United Latin American Citizens, told ABC13 that the civil rights organization sent a letter to Polis on Aguilera-Mederos’ behalf, asking for a pardon or reduced sentence.

And The Denver Post published an editorial on Wednesday asking Polis to commute Aguilera-Mederos’ sentence and urging lawmakers to reform the state’s sentencing laws.

“The reason Jones did not have discretion is that lawmakers have set mandatory minimum sentences for certain crimes, and then required that the sentences be served consecutively and not concurrently,” the editorial states. “This case shows clearly that Colorado’s sentencing laws are in need of much more reform than the changes that have come in recent years.”


This story originally appeared on the Morning Edition live blog.

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