A Texas truck driver faces 36 felony charges, including charges of vehicular homicide and first-degree assault, after his tractor-trailer plowed into stopped traffic on an interstate near Denver in April. The pileup involved about 30 vehicles, killed four people, seriously injured two, and left several others with minor injuries.
Prosecutors say that witnesses claim 23-year-old Rogel Lazaro Aguilera-Mederos of Houston was driving his tractor-trailer recklessly for miles before the fiery crash on I-70 East. Mr. Aguilera-Mederos’ wife, Nailan Gonzalez, issued a public statement days after the crash claiming her husband’s innocence. “… He was the victim of an accident, he lost the brakes on his truck on a hill,” which she said “led him to lose control of the truck.”
The tractor-trailer was careening along I-70 at about 85 mph. Mr. Aguilera-Mederos apparently noticed the stopped traffic and tried to move his truck onto the shoulder of the highway but another commercial truck was already there. The resulting collision involved 24 passenger vehicles and four other tractor-trailers.
The crash killed William Bailey, 67, and Stanley Politano, 69, both of Arvada, Colorado; Doyle Harrison, 61, of Hudson, Colorado; and Miguel Angel Lamas Arellano, 24, of Denver.
Jefferson County District Attorney Pete Weir told the press that Mr. Aguiler-Mederos “was operating the vehicle under circumstances where he was exhibiting extreme indifference to the value of human life.” Prosecutors say that witness videos showing the tractor-trailer driving on I-70 before the crash bear that assertion out. They point to one video in particular that shows the swerving truck pass a truck ramp designed for runaway vehicles that would have allowed him to exit the highway safely.
“(Aguilera-Mederos) was observed at the western part of I-70 at the general area of the Genesee Parkway/exit and Lookout Mountain driving extremely fast and in a reckless manner,” District Attorney Weir said, according to CBS Denver. “The speed limit for a commercial vehicle that [he] was operating — a semi-truck with a trailer — is 45 mph. The estimated speed of (Aguilera-Mederos) at that time and at subsequent times proceeding eastbound on I-70 was in excess of 85 mph.”
But those observations and the erratic movements of the commercial vehicle as shown on the witness videos are consistent with a truck experiencing brake failure on a winding mountain highway, the driver’s lawyer argues.
“This is a massive, unprecedented overreach by the prosecution. To charge first-degree assault — a crime of violence — on a vehicle accident? Everybody who has looked at this — from the law enforcement, Colorado Department of Transportation, State Patrol, experts up and down all agree this is an accident,” Mr. Aguilera-Mederos’ lawyer said, according to CBS Denver.
Lakewood Police spokesman Ty Countryman told CBS Denver that Mr. Aguilar-Mederos is cooperating with the investigation and that there is no evidence that drugs or alcohol were a factor in the crash.
“We don’t have any indication that was an intentional act by the driver at all,” Mr. Countryman told reporters.
Mr. Aguilera-Mederos’ lawyer told the press that there is some good evidence that the tractor-trailer experienced a malfunction, but he did not specify what problems may have occurred.
Denver’s KDVR FOX 31 & Channel 2 reported that Mr. Aguilera-Mederos worked for Castellano 03 Trucking, a Houston-based company operating five tractor-trailers and five drivers that has a history of brake issues and other safety problems.
Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) records show Castellano 03 Trucking has had 19 inspections since 2017 and was cited for 30 safety violations during that time. One-third of those violations concerned some form of brake problem, KDVR reported.
Two other violations concern the truck drivers’ ability to understand English: “Driver cannot read or speak the English language sufficiently to respond to official inquiries,” and “Driver must be able to understand highway traffic signs and signals in the English language.”
It’s not clear, however, if either of those violations relates to Mr. Aguilera-Mederos, a Cuban immigrant whose primary language is Spanish. Whether or not they did, a language barrier combined with the stress of the situation could help explain why he barreled past the runaway truck ramp.
A judge set Mr. Aguilar-Mederos’ bail at $400,000 — $100,000 for each of the fatalities. He was released from jail after a grassroots effort raised the funds needed to post his bail.
Beasley Allen lawyers are experienced in handling claims involving 18-wheelers and other heavy trucks. These cases often involve multiple parties such as the driver, the trucking company and contractors, as well as mechanics who service the vehicles. There may also be a products liability claim involved if the crash is linked to a defective product. Trucking lawyers must be familiar with state and federal laws governing commercial transportation. For more information about truck accident claims, contact Chris Glover in the firm’s Atlanta office.