On Monday, Rogel Aguilera-Mederos, a 26-year-old truck driver born in Cuba, was sentenced to 110 years in prison for a fiery crash in April 2019 that killed four people just west of Denver, Colorado.
Since then, over 2,800,000 people have signed a Change.org petition to see him granted clemency or have his sentence commuted as time served—the fastest-growing petition in 2021, according to a Change.org spokesman.
After the crash, Aguilera-Mederos told his brother and Lakewood Police that his brakes had cut out.
According to a witness affidavit, Aguilera-Mederos was “wide eyed” and had “a terrified look on his face” just before the crash.
Investigators say the young man, who was 23 at the time, a permanent resident, and had a commercial driver’s license out of Texas, told them “he thought he was going to die so he closed his eyes before hitting the stopped traffic.”
Aguilera-Mederos was charged and convicted on four counts of vehicular homicide, six counts of assault in the first degree–extreme indifference; 10 counts of attempt to commit assault in the first degree–extreme indifference; two counts of vehicular assault–reckless; one count of reckless driving; and four counts of careless driving causing death.
Lakewood Police Department Agent Ty Countryman told reporters at the time that investigators were looking into Aguilera-Mederos’ claim of a mechanical failure, but that “even if there were a mechanical issue, vehicular manslaughter charges would still stick,” according to CNN.
Many point to a video that appears to show Aguilera-Mederos’ semi speeding past a runaway truck ramp just moments before the crash.
“If he saw that, and they can prove that, and he chose not to take that exit ramp, continuing down the hill, that would certainly further aggravate a terrible, terrible situation,” said FOX31 Denver legal analyst Chris Decker.
On Monday, Colorado District Court Judge A. Bruce Jones said that he believed the crash to be an accident, but that he was bound by law to give the minimum sentence for each of the charges, totaling 110 years.
“I accept and respect what the defendant has said about his lack of intent to hurt people, but he made a series of terrible decisions, reckless decisions,” the judge said.
“Under the law, the Court was not incorrect. However, the law, as written, is barbaric and Draconian,” Aguilera-Mederos’ attorney, James Colgan, told CNN. “There needs to be a change in the law.”
“I take the responsibility, but it wasn’t intentional,” a tearful Aguilera-Mederos said in court on Monday.
“I would exchange my life for those four,” he told Telemundo.
There have been mixed reactions from the trucking community, with some saying the judge got it right and others blaming the trucking company for not properly training the young driver.
“Good!! He definitely deserves it. We don’t need these type of drivers,” wrote one reader of trucking website CDL Life.
“He shouldn’t have to be the only one to share the blame, his carrier should never have sent him up there without proper training,” wrote another reader.
“THIS IS WHY COMPANIES NEED TO BE STRICTER ON WHO THEY HIRE!!!” wrote reader Michelle Miller. “I’ve seen way to many companies just put anybody in that driver seat!!! So many people think being a driver is so easy they have NO IDEA how much responsibility is placed upon the driver.”
“Aguilera-Mederos … has nothing on his driving record, or on his criminal history,” reads the Change.org petition started by Heather Gilbee of Thornton, Colorado. “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 driver’s part. No one but the trucking company he is/was employed by should be held accountable for this accident.”
According to Gilbee, the company Aguilera-Mederos worked for “has had several inspections since 2017, with several mechanical violations.”
“In all 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,” Judge Jones said at sentencing on Monday. “Far from it. There was forgiveness reflected in those statements, but also a desire that he be punished and serve time in prison, and I share those sentiments.”
“If I had the discretion, it would not be my sentence,” the judge told Aguilera-Mederos.