After public outcry, prosecutor asks judge to reconsider trucker's 110-year sentence
Updated December 22, 2021 at 2:50 PM ET
Prosecutors have asked a judge to reconsider the 110-year sentence he delivered last week to Rogel Lazaro Aguilera-Mederos, the semitruck driver who was behind the wheel during a deadly 28-vehicle pileup in Colorado in 2019.
The reversal follows a groundswell of public support for Aguilera-Mederos, a Cuban immigrant and Texas resident who was 23 at the time of the accident. Within days of his sentencing, more than four million people signed a petition calling for the sentence to be reduced, with that number surpassing 4.6 million as of midday Wednesday.
Aguilera-Mederos' 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, Colo., in April 2019, triggering a large fire and 28-vehicle pileup that killed four people between the ages of 24 and 69. He 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.
The district attorney is calling for an expedited hearing
First Judicial District Attorney Alexis King — who pursued the case against Aguilera-Mederos — announced on Tuesday that her office had filed a motion on Friday asking the court to reconsider its sentence.
"As Colorado law required the imposition of the sentence in this case, the law also permits the Court to reconsider its sentence in an exceptional case involving unusual and extenuating circumstances," the motion reads.
It adds that such review is permitted after the court receives a report on the defendant's diagnosis and evaluation, and asks the court to set up a hearing as soon as possible after getting that report.
King's office filed another motion on Tuesday, noting that the Department of Corrections may complete their report as early as Thursday and asking the court to set a status hearing on either Friday or Monday.
"The purpose for the People's expedited request is so that the named victims in the case, as well as their families, have an opportunity to be heard by the trial court who is fully aware of the facts of the case," it adds. "We have spoken to the living victims and the families of the deceased victims, and it is their specific desire to be heard on this modification, in this forum, as quickly as possible."
Millions of people have signed a petition asking the state to reduce his sentence
A Change.org petition asking Polis to commute Aguilera-Mederos' sentence or grant him clemency had garnered more than 4.3 million signatures by Monday.
"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 wasn't 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.
NPR has reached out to Aguilera-Mederos' lawyer, James Colgan, for comment.
A spokesperson for Colorado Gov. Jared Polis told NPR over email on Wednesday that the governor's legal team is reviewing a clemency application from Aguilera-Mederos and declined to elaborate on how long that process might take.
A civil rights group, a newspaper and a cohort of truckers are among those speaking up
Other efforts are underway to draw attention to the case and to try to shorten Aguilera-Mederos' sentence.
Reality star Kim Kardashian West, a criminal justice advocate and aspiring lawyer, shared her thoughts in a lengthy Twitter thread on Tuesday.
"Colorado law really has to be changed and this is so unfair," she wrote, referring to the state's minimum sentencing requirements. She added that Polis "is a really good person and I know he will do the right thing."
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.
Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.