Denver, CO – A semi-truck driver sentenced to 110 years for causing a fireball crash that that killed four people and resulted in a 28-vehicle pileup had his sentenced reduced to just 10 years on Thursday.
Colorado Governor Jared Polis granted clemency to 26-year-old Rogel Aguilera-Mederos Dec. 30, axing a century from the 110-year mandatory minimum sentence Aguilera-Mederos received on Dec. 13, KMGH reported.
Aguilera-Mederos will be eligible for parole in five years.
Polis told Aguilera-Mederos in a letter that he believes he deserves clemency for “several reasons.”
“You were sentenced to 110 years in prison, effectively more than a life sentence, for a tragic but unintentional act,” the governor wrote. “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 noted Aguilera-Mederos’ sentence is “highly unusual” and “highlights the lack of uniformity between sentences for similarly situated crimes, which is particularly true when individuals are charged with offenses that require mandatory minimum sentences.”
“This case will hopefully spur an important conversation about sentencing laws, but any subsequent changes to the law would not retroactively impact your sentence, which is why I am granting you this limited commutation,” the governor said.
Polis’ order came just days after a judge scheduled a hearing to reconsider the matter at the behest of First Judicial District Attorney Alexis King’s office, KMGH reported.
King said she planned to ask the judge to reduce Aguilera-Mederos’ sentence to 20 to 30 years.
She noted she was “disappointed in the Governor’s decision to act prematurely,” according to KMGH.
“We are meeting with the victims and their loved ones this evening to support them in navigating this unprecedented action and to ensure they are treated with fairness, dignity, and respect during this difficult time,” the district attorney added. “We look forward to sharing more information with our community that we were ethically prohibited from releasing while the case was pending.”
Leonard Martinez, Aguilera-Mederos’ attorney, said his client’s original sentence was “injust and not in line with prior case law,” KMGH reported.
“We are thankful that the governor agrees with us,” Martinez said. “We are reviewing this commutation of the sentence with Rogel and his family. The potential for Rogel to be reunited with his family rather than spend a lifetime behind bars is exciting for all involved.”
He will now be eligible for parole in early 2027, KMGH reported.
Aguilera-Mederos, then 23, was behind the wheel of an 18-wheeler on April 25, 2019, hauling a load of lumber down Interstate 70 during rush-hour traffic in the Denver suburb of Lakewood when he began losing control of the truck, The Independent reported.
He later told investigators his brakes went out as he was heading downhill with his heavy load of cargo.
According to prosecutors, Aguilera-Mederos passed by multiple runaway truck ramps, which are designed to divert vehicles with braking problems off of the congested roadway and into an area where they can stop safely, The Independent reported.
But he failed to use any of them, prosecutors noted.
Aguilera-Mederos said during the trial that he had never hauled through the mountains before and that he planned to coast down the shoulder of the interstate until the downhill ended, but that he swerved back into traffic when he spotted another semi-truck parked on the shoulder, KMGH reported.
“I thought, ‘Dear God, don’t let anything bad happen,’” he testified.
Aguilera-Mederos was traveling at least 85 miles per hour when he slammed into traffic at the Colorado Mills Parkway overpass, KMGH reported.
Four other semi-trucks and 24 additional vehicles were involved in the pileup, which culminated with a fireball explosion, according to The Independent.
First responders worked for hours to free some of the trapped victims’ bodies.
The horrific collision claimed the lives of 69-year-old Stanley Politano, 24-year-old Miguel Angel Lamas Arrellano, 67-year-old William Bailey, and 61-year-old Doyle Harrison, The Independent reported.
All four men were traveling in separate vehicles when they were killed.
Aguilera-Mederos was convicted of 27 counts in October, including four counts of careless driving causing death, one count of reckless driving, two counts of vehicular assault-reckless, 10 counts of attempt to commit assault in the first degree-extreme indifference, six counts of first-degree assault, and four counts of vehicular homicide, The Independent reported.
He begged for leniency during his sentencing hearing on Dec. 13, tearfully expressing his remorse for those he killed and injured.
“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? I ask God too many times why them and not me? Why did I survive that accident?”
The sobbing defendant told the court he is “sorry” for the trauma he created and that his is “not a criminal,” The Independent reported.
The situation was a “terrible accident,” Aguilera-Mederos said.
“I want to say sorry. Sorry for the loss, for the people injured. I know they have trauma, I know, I feel that,” he said. “But please, don’t be angry with me… I was working hard for a better future for my family.”
“I am not a criminal,” he added, according to FOX News. “I am not a murderer. I am not a killer. When I look at my charges, we are talking about a murderer, which is not me. I have never thought about hurting anybody in my entire life.”
Aguilera-Mederos was initially sentenced to a mandatory 110 years in prison on Dec. 13, The Independent reported.
State law requires each count be served consecutively.
Colorado District Court Judge Bruce Jones noted that his hands were tied with regards to the mandatory sentence, The Independent reported.
“If I had the discretion, it would not be my sentence,” Jones said during the sentencing hearing.
He also added that Aguilera-Mederos “made a series of terrible decisions…reckless decisions,” according to KCNC.
“In all the victim impact statements I read, I did not glean from them someone saying he should be in prison for the rest of his life and he should never, ever get out — far from it,” Jones said, according to The Washington Post. “There was forgiveness reflected in those statements, but also a desire that he be punished and served time in prison, and I share those sentiments.”
The judge said he has “no desire” to see Aguilera-Mederos “in prison for the rest of his life and away from his wife and son.”
“I do not know how this will ultimately resolve,” Jones added.
A multitude of truck drivers vowed they will no longer haul through or into Colorado in the wake of Aguilera-Mederos’ sentence, FOX News reported.
Over 5 million people signed a Change.org petition calling for the truck driver to be granted clemency or for commutation of his sentence.
“[Aguilera-Mederos] has nothing on his driving record, or on his criminal history,” the petition reads. “[He’s] passed all of the drug and alcohol tests that were given including a chemical test. This accident was not intentional, nor was it a criminal act on the drivers’ part.”
“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,” his supporters added.
The Change.org petition further claimed the company Aguilera-Mederos was working for at the time of the deadly crash “failed to follow” federal laws pertaining to truck-driving.
“No, we are not trying to make it seem any less of a tragic accident that it is because yes, lives were lost. We are trying to hold the person who needs to be held responsible, responsible,” the petition read.