Calls for leniency grow for trucker sentenced to 110 years in deadly Colorado highway crash

Four people died in fiery crash on I-70 in Colorado on April 25, 2019. (Photo by Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post)

An online petition has gathered millions of signatures calling for leniency for a 26-year-old truck driver who was sentenced to 110 years in prison for vehicular homicide in an explosive accident at the base of a Colorado mountain highway that killed four people in 2019.

More than 4.5 million people had signed the petition urging Gov. Jared Polis to grant clemency or commute Rogel Aguilera-Mederos' sentence by Tuesday, The Denver Gazette reports. Truckers nationwide have voiced outrage over the sentence on Twitter, using the hashtags #NoTrucksToColorado and #NoTrucksColorado, among others. 

The Democratic governor's office said it would welcome an application, while Aguilera-Mederos' attorney told KDVR-TV that a request could take time because the sentence was just handed down Dec. 13. 

Aguilera-Mederos was convicted in October of vehicular homicide and other charges stemming from the April 25, 2019, crash. He testified that he was hauling lumber when the brakes on his semitrailer failed as he was descending a steep grade of Interstate 70 in the Rocky Mountain foothills.

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His truck plowed into vehicles that had slowed because of another wreck in the Denver suburb of Lakewood. He was traveling at least 85 mph on a part of the interstate where commercial vehicles are limited to 45 mph.

The chain-reaction wreck involving 28 vehicles ruptured gas tanks, causing a fireball that consumed vehicles and melted parts of the highway.

Prosecutors argued that as Aguilera-Mederos' truck barreled down from the mountains, he could have used a runaway ramp alongside the interstate that is designed to safely stop vehicles that have lost their brakes. Aguilera-Mederos testified he was struggling to avoid traffic and to shift his truck into lower gear to slow it down.


(Photo: Lakewood Police Department)

In imposing the sentence, District Court Judge Bruce Jones said it was the mandatory minimum term set forth under state law — and suggested a lesser punishment was warranted. Mandatory minimum sentencing laws required that sentences on 27 counts of vehicular assault, assault, reckless driving and other charges run consecutively.

"I will state that if I had the discretion, it would not be my sentence," the judge said.

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First Judicial District Attorney Alexis King, whose office prosecuted the case, said after sentencing she would welcome a reconsideration of the punishment. But she told The Denver Post that Aguilera-Mederos didn’t accept efforts to negotiate a plea deal, and that the convictions recognized the harm caused to victims of the crash. 

Polis’ office issued a statement saying that "we welcome an application from Rogel Lazaro Aguilera-Mederos and will expedite consideration but have not received one yet at this time."

Aguilera-Mederos’ attorney, James Colgan, told The Post he intends to appeal the jury’s verdict and that any application for clemency or leniency would have to wait pending that appeal. Among other factors, an application requires input from the Department of Corrections.

The crash killed 24-year-old Miguel Angel Lamas Arellano, 67-year-old William Bailey, 61-year-old Doyle Harrison and 69-year-old Stanley Politano.

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Aguilera-Mederos wept as he apologized to the victims’ families at his sentencing. He asked for their forgiveness.

"I am not a murderer. I am not a killer. When I look at my charges, we are talking about a murderer, which is not me," he said. "I have never thought about hurting anybody in my entire life."

Jay Tifickjian, a criminal defense attorney, told KDVR that he was surprised to see so many charges filed. He said he knew the mandatory sentencing would likely result in a life sentence.

"I can’t think of the last case here, or anywhere else, where somebody committed a negligent or reckless crime that resulted in such a sentence," he told the station. "It’s really telling of how the government can come down and really crush someone if they want to."