The 110-year prison sentence of truck driver Rogel Aguilera-Mederos for a 2019 explosive brake failure crash that left four people dead and countless others injured shocked relatives, Colorado lawmakers, and members of the tight-knit truck driving community.
Then 23, Aguilera-Mederos, was on I-70 in Denver when his brakes failed while hauling lumber. Traveling downhill, he took to the shoulder, only to collide with traffic already stopped. The explosion left a significant pileup with drivers injured and killed.
Overwhelming support and a PR nightmare
Shortly after the sentencing, a rally started at Colorado’s state capitol a few days before Christmas to protest the lengthy sentence and plead for clemency. Amassing via social media messages, thousands of truck drivers tried to send a clear message to Gov. Jared Polis by refusing to deliver goods into the state, resulting in a severe jolt to the state’s economy.
While the crowd amassed, prosecutor Kayla Wildeman took a different tact, using social media to celebrate. The picture of her hoisting a semi-truck brake shoe-shaped trophy courtesy of the Chief Deputy District Attorney Trevor Moritzky became a public relations nightmare.
That same prosecutor claimed that the driver missed an opportunity to take a runaway truck ramp while attempting to engage his emergency brake. Supporters shot down that theory claiming that mountainous areas present challenges for the most seasoned semi-truck operators.
Support grew worldwide but was tempered by supporters claiming that Aguilera-Mederos was still guilty of a crime. Others allege that the brake failure is the responsibility of his employer, Castellano 03 Trucking. They cite poor training of the driver and his need for a translator at trial and the company’s 19 vehicle inspections that uncovered 30 violations two years before the accident.
The day before New Year’s Eve was cause for an earlier celebration as Gov. Polis commuted Aguilera-Mederos’s sentence from 110 years to 10 years with eligibility for parole in five years.