Days after a Colorado judge sentenced a truck driver to 110 years in prison for his role in a 2019 crash that killed four people, an online petition seeking for the sentence to be reduced has been signed by more than four million people.
On April 25, 2019, Rogel Aguilera-Mederos was driving a truck on Interstate 70 in Lakewood, Colo., near Denver, when it crashed into several cars, killing four people.
In October, a jury found him guilty of 27 counts, including vehicular homicide and vehicular assault. On Dec. 13, a district court judge, A. Bruce Jones, sentenced Mr. Aguilera-Mederos, now 26, to more than a century in prison, citing Colorado state law that required sentences for each count to be served consecutively, rather than concurrently.
Almost immediately, the lengthy sentence drew scrutiny, including from the judge, who, Reuters reported, said, “If I had the discretion, it would not be my sentence.”
In a Dec. 15 editorial, The Denver Post urged Gov. Jared Polis of Colorado to commute the lengthy sentence and called on state legislators to change the law that mandated it.
Mr. Aguilera-Mederos has said malfunctioning brakes were the primary cause of the crash. The company he was driving for, identified in local news reports as Castellano 03 Trucking LLC in Houston, did not immediately return messages left at phone numbers associated with the company.
Prosecutors in the case have argued that Mr. Aguilera-Mederos was responsible for the deaths because of several decisions he made while behind the wheel, including not steering the truck, which was hauling lumber, onto a runaway truck ramp along the highway.
The day after The Denver Post editorial appeared, Jalopnik, a popular website about cars, wrote that “sending an employee to a lifetime-and-a-half in prison as a result of a tragedy stemming from equipment failure isn’t going to do anyone any favors.”
A petition on the website Change.org called what happened a “tragic accident” and urged Mr. Polis to either grant Mr. Aguilera-Mederos clemency or a commutation. By Sunday, it had collected more than 4.2 million signatures.
“I have been in this system for 32 years and I have never seen anything like this,” said James Colgan, a lawyer for Mr. Aguilera-Mederos.
“I think the chances are pretty good that the governor is going to look at that favorably,” he said, adding, “This is truly, truly, truly something that is out of the ordinary.”
Conor Cahill, a spokesman for Mr. Polis, said “we welcome an application” from the defense “and will expedite consideration but have not received one yet at this time.”
Mr. Colgan said he plans to seek a commutation, which lessens the severity of the sentence, not a pardon, which excuses or forgives the offense. A commutation would not change the jury’s decision to convict Mr. Aguilera-Mederos but would change how much time, if any, he would spend incarcerated.
Gage Evans, the wife of William Bailey, who died in the crash, said on Sunday that she does not believe Mr. Aguilera-Mederos’s sentence should be commuted. Instead, she thinks state legislators should re-evaluate the law that forces him to serve each of his sentences consecutively.
“This person should spend some time in prison and think about his actions,” said Ms. Evans, 65. “I don’t think he should be let off with a slap on the wrist.”
She said that she and the other family members of the victims dispute the “public narrative” that Mr. Aguilera-Mederos is a victim.
“We are truly the victims,” she said, adding that she believes Mr. Aguilera-Mederos made “bad decisions all along the way that day.”
Michael W. Teague, a spokesman for the Colorado First Judicial District Attorney’s Office, said the driver’s actions that day had “grave impacts.”
“We initiated plea negotiations but Mr. Aguilera-Mederos declined to consider anything other than a traffic ticket,” he said.
The 110-year sentence in this case, Mr. Teague said in a statement, is “within the purview of the court and reflects the judgment of the legislature.” If an appeal is pursued, “we will again pursue an appropriate outcome if that opportunity arises, after consulting with the victims and survivors and receiving their input,” he said.
After Mr. Aguilera-Mederos was sentenced, the Truck Safety Coalition, an organization that works with families of truck crash victims, made a pointed statement directed at trucking companies.
“We hope that this outcome will result in commercial motor carriers prioritizing safety,” it said on Twitter on Thursday.
Mr. Colgan said of his client, “We’re not saying he’s innocent and didn’t make mistakes” but that “the punishment has to fit the crime and this punishment does not fit the crime.”
Alyssa Lukpat contributed reporting.
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