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The call for justice in the case of Rogel Lazaro Aguilera-Mederos was front and center to end 2021. Photo: Helen H. Richardson/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images
The call for justice in the case of Rogel Lazaro Aguilera-Mederos was front and center to end 2021. Photo: Helen H. Richardson/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Colorado Governor Jared Polis shortens truck driver’s sentence for fatal crash

The original 110-year sentence for Rogel Lazaro Aguilera-Mederos faced serious backlash for its severity and the failure of state law.

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After a wave of negative reactions across the country and rising pressure from advocates online and in the government, Colorado Governor Jared Polis has reduced the sentence of 26-year-old truck driver Rogel Lazaro Aguilera-Mederos from 110 to 10 years.

Aguilera-Mederos was the driver of a semi that slammed into stopped traffic on April 25, 2019, resulting in a 28-car pile up that killed four people. The accident occurred just west of Denver on Interstate 70, as Aguilera-Mederos made a panicked descent from the Rocky Mountains with failed brakes.

Beyond the mechanical failure, video also surfaced showing Aguilera-Mederos fail to use an emergency runoff ramp in the lead up to the crash.

At his trial, Aguilera-Mederos expressed remorse for his poor decisions that resulted in deaths, and was convicted by a jury of 27 counts. As a result of Colorado’s sentencing laws, he faced 110 years in jail.

The judge on the case said his hands were tied and that the ultimate sentence handed down would not have been his decision in the absence of state law.

Advocates online, which started a petition to Polis that reached 5 million signatures on Change.com, focused on how Aguilera-Mederos’ trucking company — a Houston-based company — faced virtually no consequences for the mechanical failures of his semi, and cited surfaced reports in the news of the company’s past regulation failures.

Initially following the backlash, District Attorney Alexis King, whose office prosecuted Aguilera-Mederos, said on Dec. 27 that she would pursue a reduced sentence of 20 to 30 years following further discussions with family members of the victims.

The resentencing hearing was scheduled for Jan. 13, 2022.

Rather than wait for the hearing to happen, Polis announced the commutation of Aguilera-Mederos’ sentence to 10 years on Dec. 30, 2020. He will now also be eligible for parole one the same day in 2026.

"The length of your 110-year sentence is simply not commensurate with your actions, nor with penalties handed down to others for similar crimes," Polis said in a letter announcing the commutation. "There is an urgency to remedy this unjust sentence and restore confidence in the uniformity and fairness of our criminal justice system.”

While advocates, including Aguilera-Mederos’ lawyer, were ecstatic for the reduced sentence, one family member of a victim expressed outrage at the governor for undercutting the judicial process that already scheduled a resentencing hearing for Jan. 13.

“To me that proves he did not have faith in the judicial system,” Duane Bailey told NBC News. “Because if you had faith in the judicial system, he would allow the hearing take place and let the judge set the sentence."

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