A petition in support of Rogel Aguilera-Mederos has received more than five million signatures, asking for mercy for the driver.
In the United States, Colorado Governor Jared Polis has shortened the 110-year sentence of a truck driver convicted of vehicle homicide, which reduced the prison sentence to 10 years after prosecutors returned to court this week in a rare step that sought indulgence.
In a commuter letter to Cuban-born truck driver Rogel Lazaro Aguilera-Mederos, 26, the governor said the fatal crash along a mountain highway that killed four motorists in April 2019 was a “tragic but unintentional act”.
The decision on Aguilera-Mederos’ sentence was under several year-end conversions and pardons issued by Police on Thursday.
The truck driver will be eligible for parole in five years, the governor said.
The move comes days after a judge scheduled a January 13 trial to reconsider the sentence at the request of the district attorney who planned to ask for it to be reduced to 20 to 30 years.
More than five million people have signed an online petition to pardon Aguilera-Mederos, who was convicted by a jury in October of four counts of vehicle murder and multiple counts of assault and reckless driving in the explosive 2019 hope that killed four people.
Aguilera-Mederos testified that he was driving wood when the brakes on his trailer vehicle failed when he descended a steep grade of Interstate 70 in the Rocky Mountain foothills. His truck plowed into vehicles that were delayed due to another accident, causing a chain reaction accident and a fireball that consumed vehicles and melted parts of the highway.
Video of the scene shows cars and trucks engulfed in flames, with fire shooting into the air, and wood scattered across the road.
Judge Bruce Jones handed down the 110-year sentence on Dec. 13 after finding it was the mandatory minimum term set out under state law, noting that it would not have been his choice.
Prosecutors argued that while Aguilera-Mederos’ truck was descending from the mountains, he could have used a run-off ramp along the highway designed to safely stop vehicles that lost control of their brakes.
District Attorney Alexis King criticized Polis, saying the governor essentially short-circuited a more deliberate judicial process that prosecutors began in consultation with victims’ families and survivors.
“We are disappointed in the governor’s decision to act prematurely,” King said in a statement, adding that a final decision on Aguilera-Mederos’ fate should rest with a judge.
During a court hearing on Monday, King requested that the sentence be reduced to the 20- to 30-year range, arguing that indulgence was justified in the absence of criminal intent.
Defense attorney James Colgan called King’s move “dishonest.” “Two weeks ago, they (prosecutors) were completely fine with my client who had to get 110 years until there was a public outcry,” he told Reuters news agency after Monday’s hearing. “It’s all political.”
The crash killed 24-year-old Miguel Angel Lamas Arellano, 67-year-old William Bailey, 61-year-old Doyle Harrison and 69-year-old Stanley Politano.
The governor said the case would hopefully spark a discussion on sentencing laws, but he noted that any future changes would not help Aguilera-Mederos.
Polis said the driver was “not impeccable”, but the 110-year sentence was “out of proportion” compared to those who committed “intentional, premeditated or violent crimes”.
“There is an urgency to rectify this unjust sentence and restore confidence in the uniformity and fairness of our criminal justice system, and consequently I have chosen to mitigate your sentence now,” Polis wrote.