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Rogel Aguilera-Mederos was sentenced Monday in a Colorado courtroom to 110 years in prison for a crash in 2019 that resulted in the death of four people.
Aguilera-Mederos was 23 when the semi-truck he was driving slammed into stopped traffic on I-70 on April 25, 2019. Traffic was stopped on the interstate because of another accident up ahead. His truck lost brakes at some point and plowed into sitting traffic going 85mph.
“I know it has been hard and heartbreaking for everyone involved,” Aguilera-Mederos said at his sentencing hearing. “I can’t sleep, I think all the time about the victims. A part of me will be missing forever, as well.”
Aguilera-Mederos has been in jail for over two years since the accident.
Charges for the accident.
Aguilera-Mederos faced 42 counts in total for the crash. He was found guilty on 27 of them. The most serious of the charges were four counts of vehicular manslaughter. Other guilty counts included first-degree assault, first-degree attempt to commit assault, vehicular assault, reckless driving, and careless driving.
Judge A. Bruce Jones said in his sentencing that there were “restrictions on what he could do in this case.”
“If I had the discretion [this] would not be my sentence,” Judge Jones said, explaining to the courtroom that he was required by law to adhere to at least the minimum sentences. The violent nature of the guilty charges mean that each sentence Judge Jones administered must be served consecutively, or back-to-back.
“In all victim impact statements I read, I did not glean from them someone saying, ‘He should be in prison for the rest of his life, and he should never, ever get out,” Jones said. “Far from it. There was forgiveness reflected in those statements, but also a desire that he be punished and serve time in prison, and I share those sentiments.”
Aguilera-Mederos was sentenced to the required 10-year minimum for each of the six counts of first-degree assault with extreme indifference. He was also sentenced to the required minimum of five years for 10 additional counts of attempted first-degree assault with extreme indifference. All of these sentences will be served consecutively.
What was said in the courtroom.
Both sides agreed that Aguilera-Mederos’ truck lost brakes at some point, but they disagreed on how or why that happened.
They also disagreed on the actions following the realization that the semi no longer had working breaks.
“There’s only two ways this can go: Either the defendant didn’t catch it like he was supposed to, or the defendant drove on his brakes the entire way and caused them to be that way,” said Deputy District Attorney Kayla Wildeman.
The defense countered that the brakes were bad on the trailer before Aguilera-Mederos left Texas days earlier and that he should not be blamed for parts that were not properly maintained.
“Had those trailer brakes been operable and had they been functioning and properly maintained before that trailer left Houston, this accident never would have happened,” said defense attorney James Colgan. “Mr. Mederos had no idea that what he was dragging behind him from Houston was an inoperable trailer. He had no idea that when he needed those trailer brakes, they weren’t going to exist.”
After the realization that the brakes were out, prosecutors argued that Aguilera-Mederos made a series of bad choices, which caused the crash, with the biggest one being his failure to use an emergency runway truck ramp.
“He saw that ramp,” Wildeman said. “But what he did was a cost-benefit analysis. He looked at it and said I can baby this down the hill. I can get this down, and so he goes past it. And it’s not until he sees the traffic that he realizes, ‘Oh, crap.’ He made a choice. He chose to pass that.”
Meanwhile, the defense argued that the emergency ramp was not ignored on purpose, and according to his own testimony Aguilera-Mederos was weaving in and out of traffic to avoid vehicles.
Driver tried to avoid vehicles before deadly crash
“Contrary to what the prosecution has said, he didn’t purposely avoid the runaway truck ramp. He was moving in and out of traffic,” Colgan said. “Maybe there was some tunnel vision going on here. If anyone has ever been under stress, especially unexpected stress, just think about that for a second. You focus on one thing.”
Aguilera-Mederos himself said that he planned to veer off to the shoulder and stay there until he could get to an area that would allow him to slow down but an 18-wheeler was already parked on the shoulder.
The prosecution argued that Aguilera-Mederos saw the parked semi and other large trucks and decided to aim for the smaller vehicles because “he knows he’s not going to die.”
“He picks the choice where he 100% knows people are going to be hit. They’re going to die and they’re going to be hurt. He avoids all the semi trucks. He chooses the smaller cars where he knows he’s not going to die. He takes that path right through. He swerved into a sea of cars that were sitting ducks with nowhere to go.”
The defense said that Aguilera-Mederos made the best decision he could given the position he was in.
“The truth of the matter is that by the time this truck got to the bottom of the hill, there were no options available. All the options were not available where no one was going to get hurt,” he said. “It’s easy to be an armchair quarterback. It’s very easy to say ‘This is what I would have done.’ But the fact that Mr. Mederos was not willing to commit suicide doesn’t make him a killer.”
A change.org petition has been created, and more than 400,000 people have already signed asking Colorado Gov. Jared Polis to grant clemency to Aguilera-Mederos. Polis’ office released the following statement regarding potential clemency:
“We are aware of this issue, the Governor and his team review each clemency application individually.”