Truckers and citizens alike are demanding clemency for the driver of an 18-wheeler sentenced to 110 years in prison for causing a huge crash that killed four on a Colorado interstate.
More than 4.4 million people have now signed a petition urging Governor Jared Polis to lessen the driver’s sentence and social media users are calling on truckers to boycott Colorado.
A protest in support of Rogel Aguilera-Mederos, 26 – the former truck driver who allegedly caused the crash – was held in Denver on Monday. Despite the outpour of support he has received online, only eight people turned up for the demonstration.
‘Our goal is to bring local and national awareness so that we CAN find someone who will support Rogel in creating change in this sentencing,’ protest organizers told CBS 4. ‘Let’s join together and RISE UP in support for Rogel! Let Governor Polis Know the TIME doesn’t fit the ‘Crime‘. If we do not stand up for him, who will?’
Meantime, relatives of the victims dispute the narrative circulating the internet and claim that Aguilera-Mederos is not a victim, as many of his supporters allege.
‘This person should spend some time in prison and think about his actions,’ Gage Evans, the 65-year-old wife of William Bailey who died in the crash, told the New York Times Sunday. ‘I don’t think he should be let off with a slap on the wrist.’
‘We are truly the victims,’ she said, noting that she believes Aguilera-Mederos made ‘bad decisions all along the way that day.’
A spokesperson for Polis said the governor’s office will ‘welcome an application’ for clemency from the defense ‘and will expedite consideration but have not received one yet at this time.’
Aguilera-Mederos was driving a semi on April 25, 2019 down Interstate 70 in Lakewood, Colorado, when he crashed into two dozen vehicles – including four other semi-trucks stuck in rush-hour traffic. The impact caused a fireball explosion that incinerated cars and trucks, and killed four people.
More than two years later, on Dec. 13, Aguilera-Mederos, of Texas, was sentenced to 110 consecutive years in prison by county court Judge A. Bruce Jones, who said his hands were tied due to mandatory minimum laws in the state.
The judge sentenced Aguilera-Mederos to the minimum in the range available to him on all 27 criminal counts, the Denver Channel reported.
During his trial, the ex-trucker testified the brakes on his semi failed before he plowed into the other vehicles. However, prosecutors argued he could have taken steps to prevent the crash, such as choosing to use one of several runaway ramps as his 18-wheeler barreled down the Denver-area mountains.
In wake of his sentencing, social media has erupted with calls for clemency.
‘Rogel Lazaro Aguilera-Mederos, 23, has nothing on his driving record, or on his criminal history,’ the Change.org petition for Aguilera-Mederos’ clemency, which was addressed to Colorado Governor Jared Polis and Jefferson County courts, reads.
‘He had complied with every single request by the Jefferson County courts, and investigators on the case.’
Twitter and TikTok users are now urging truckers to boycott the state, saying Aguilera-Mederos’ punishment ‘was far too much’.
‘It makes me happy to see truckers standing up for the 26 year old Latino who got 110 years. That’s a ridiculous sentence for what was obviously an accident. Meanwhile you have privileged yt boys getting no jail time for pre-planned murders,’ wrote Twitter user @Not_YouFatJesus.
‘We (Brown Eagle LLC) have joined the protest and are not getting any loads out of or to Colorado until Rogel gets justice cause 110 years is ridiculous. The company should be held accountable!’ echoed @AOrtega_80, a CDL Class A driver.
However, the movement supporting the 26-year-old, which has taken on the hashtag #NoTrucksToColorado, is flooding with misinformation, The Trucker reported.
‘Feel for driver,’ Colorado Motor Carriers tweeted, adding: ‘#NoTrucksToColorado has some info that is not accurate.
‘Not mech. failure – brakes gave way due to inexper. driver traveling in mtns above posted speeds/ not gearing down — overheated brakes gave way. He knew of hot brakes yet bypassed runaway truck ramp.’
The protestors also misconstrued the meaning behind a photo circulating TikTok that showed 18-wheelers backed up for miles on a Colorado interstate. The social media users alleged the back-up was in response to the Aguilera-Mederos verdict, however the trucks were actually gridlocked because of icy weather.
Meantime, many are calling the boycott ‘unnecessary’ and believe the ex-trucker should face strict punishments.
‘We initiated plea negotiations but Mr. Aguilera-Mederos declined to consider anything other than a traffic ticket,’ Teague told the Times.
He added, if an appeal is sought, the state will ‘again pursue an appropriate outcome if that opportunity arises, after consulting with the victims and survivors and receiving their input.’
James Colgan, a lawyer for Aguilera-Mederos, argued the punishment was unjust: ‘I have been in this system for 32 years and I have never seen anything like this.’