11:47 AM PST, December 31, 2021
Colorado’s governor drastically reduced the prison sentence of truck driver Rogel Aguilera-Mederos from 110 years to 10 years, following a national outcry that resulted in more than five million people signing an online petition seeking clemency for the remorseful man.
Calling the sentence imposed on Aguilera-Mederos “highly atypical and unjust,” Gov. Jared Polis announced Thursday he was commuting the lengthy punishment, thereby enabling the 26-year-old to be eligible for parole in 2026.
The long-haul driver lost control of his truck in 2019 on a mountainous stretch of Interstate 70 and plowed into stalled traffic, causing a 28-vehicle pile-up that killed four people. He told investigators his brakes failed and he couldn’t steer his tractor-trailer into a runaway truck lane because it was already occupied.
The driver was found guilty in October on 27 charges that included four counts of vehicular homicide, six counts of first-degree assault, 10 counts of attempt to commit assault in the first degree–extreme indifference, two counts of vehicular assault, one count of reckless driving and four counts of careless driving causing death.
He was sentenced earlier this month to 110 years by Jefferson County District Judge Bruce Jones, who said, “If I had the discretion, it would not be my sentence.” Bruce told the court he he had “no desire” to sentence Aguilera-Mederos to life in prison, but the state required the sentences to be served consecutively instead of concurrently.
At his sentencing hearing, Aguilera-Mederos wept and told the court, “I know that it has been hard and heartbreaking for everyone involved in this tragedy,” he said. “Your honor, I don’t know why I’m alive. Like for what?” he said.
“I ask God too many times why them and not me? Why did I survive that accident?” he said.
The punishment drew outrage from fellow truckers and social media exploded with posts from long-haul drivers showing long lines of trucks whose operators refused to travel through the state of Colorado.
“We fully support and stand with the boycott of industry and business to Colorado,” said Tony Salas, co-founder of the Greater Houston Trucking Association. The company the driver had worked for is based in Houston.
An online change.org petition asking for clemency gained more than five million signatures.
“You were sentenced to 110 years in prison, effectively more than a life sentence, for a tragic but unintentional act,” the governor wrote in his commutation letter. “While you are not blameless, your sentence is disproportionate compared with many other inmates in our criminal justice system who committed intentional, premeditated, or violent crimes,” Polis said.
“You will struggle with this burden of this event for the rest of your life, but never forget that … countless others will struggle with the loss of their loved ones or injuries as well,” the governor added.
The trial judge had granted a request by prosecutors to reconsider the original sentence, and had scheduled a Jan. 13 hearing on the matter. But Polis’ Thursday commutation announcement likely renders that hearing moot.
Prosecutors had indicated they were going to ask the trial judge to impose a sentence of up to 30 years.
District Attorney Alexis King said she was “disappointed in the Governor’s decision to act prematurely.”
“I joined the surviving victims and families of those who lost their loved ones in their wish to have the trial judge determine an appropriate sentence in this case,” King said in a statement Thursday.