Cover photo: Truck drivers lined up and refusing to enter Colorado, in protest of the 110 sentence given to Rogel Aguilera-Mederos Source: @elchocolatitoherrera503/TikTok
By Nélida Tello
On December 13, Judge Bruce Jones in Colorado sentenced semi-truck driver Rogel Aguilera-Mederos, 26 years old, to 110 years in prison for the deaths of four drivers which occurred after he lost control of his vehicle due to brake failure, crashing into 28 cars. Aguilera-Mederos’s case has sparked protest from truck drivers who see the excessive sentencing as an injustice. Last week, after truckers organized solidarity actions such as boycotting trips to Colorado, the state took steps to reevaluate the sentence.
In October, Aguilera-Mederos was found guilty of a multitude of charges, 27 in total. In Colorado, so-called “crimes of violence” require that sentences be served back-to-back. Aguilera-Mederos received 60 years for the six counts of first-degree assault and 50 years for five counts of attempted first-degree assault.
The accident occurred on April 25, 2019, on Interstate 70 (I-70) traveling into Denver, ending in a fire that engulfed multiple vehicles. At the time, Aguilera-Mederos was employed by Castellano 03 Trucking, a small, Houston-based trucking company. Between 2018 and 2019, the company received multiple vehicle maintenance violations, such as ten violations for brakes or brake systems. The company also received two driver fitness violations; in other words, Castellano hired drivers who did not have the necessary training or education to understand highway traffic signs and signals.
Aguilera-Mederos’s lack of experience resulted in not knowing how to manage the 18-wheeler properly after his brakes failed. Without brakes, his truck barreled down I-70, reaching a speed of 85 mph. He attempted to move off the road, but a semi-truck stopped on the shoulder caused him to move back onto the traffic lanes. According to police reports, he told authorities that he did not drive off the road because he was afraid that his truck would roll over.
Tribune spoke to a truck driver with more than 20 years of driving experience for his perspective on the case. He agreed that the company’s maintenance failures were an issue, but also commented on the then-23-year-old Aguilera-Mederos’s lack of experience, which falls on the company as well. The truck driver explained that driving on I-70, where Aguilera-Mederos lost control of his truck, is very different from driving on highways with easier terrain: “This is because on these highways you’re driving through mountains, snowy conditions, and deep inclines. It takes years to learn to navigate through these highways.”
“What happened is very sad because it wasn’t the victims’ fault. This is something very regrettable. The company is responsible for what happened,” the driver told Tribune. He felt that Aguilera-Mederos, who is a Cuban immigrant, was treated differently by the courts due to being Latino: “[The sentencing] is an injustice and racist. Anyone who gets into a car can hurt another person. He had no intention of hurting anyone.”
Truck drivers have responded to the harsh sentencing by protesting and refusing to take trips to Colorado in solidarity with Aguilera-Mederos. The boycott has gained steam among drivers, forcing the state to take notice.
When asked about truck drivers refusing trips to Colorado, the truck driver told Tribune this was “to teach [the state] that [Aguilera-Mederos] is not alone, that if we don’t raise our voice this could happen to anyone. We are a large trade. We’re just working. We have to leave our families to work.”
Following the sentencing, people rallied outside of the Colorado State Capitol to protest the 110-year sentence, calling for clemency for Aguilera-Mederos. Heather Gilbee, a Colorado native, started an online petition asking Governor Jared Polis for clemency or commutation as time served. At the time of writing, the petition has more than 4 million signatures.
Conceding to the overwhelming support from workers and people across the country, on December 17, Colorado First Judicial District Attorney Alexis King requested a hearing to reduce Aguilera-Mederos’s sentence. However, according to state law, Aguilera-Mederos must serve at least 119 days in prison before his sentence can be altered.
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