Nearly five million sign clemency petition for a driver whose truck crashed in US Rocky Mountains in 2019, killing four.
A judge in the US state of Colorado is set to consider on Monday a request from prosecutors to reduce the 110-year prison sentence of a truck driver for a fiery, mountain road crash that killed four.
The sentence given to Rogel Aguilera-Mederos, 26, for the 2019 crash on Interstate 70, west of Denver, drew public outrage, with about five million people signing an online petition seeking clemency for him.
Jefferson County District Attorney Alexis King said in a statement on December 23 that she would ask the judge to resentence Aguilera-Mederos for the crash.
The 26-year-old testified that he was hauling lumber when the brakes failed on his semi-truck as he was descending a steep grade in the Rocky Mountain foothills.
The truck ploughed into vehicles that had slowed because of another wreck, setting off a chain reaction and a fireball that consumed vehicles and melted parts of the highway.
“As the jury found, Mr Aguilera-Mederos knowingly made multiple active choices that resulted in the death of four people, serious injuries to others, and mass destruction,” King said, suggesting he be sentenced to 20 to 30 years in prison.
But Colorado District Court Judge Bruce Jones, who imposed the 110-year sentence – a legal minimum – against Aguilera-Mederos on December 13, said “if I had the discretion, it would not be my sentence”.
Meanwhile, nearly five million people have signed a petition posted on Change.org, calling for Aguilera-Mederos to be granted clemency or released on time served.
“This accident was not intentional, nor was it a criminal act on the drivers [sic] part,” the petition read.
“Rogel has said several times that he wishes he had the courage to crash and take his own life that day, this tragic accident wasn’t done with intent, it wasn’t a criminal act, it was an accident,” it continued.
Leonard Martinez, one of Aguilera-Mederos’s defence lawyers, said the district attorney’s new requested sentencing range was not acceptable and was not consistent with similar cases in Colorado and elsewhere in the US.
Instead, lawyers would ask Colorado Governor Jared Polis to grant Aguilera-Mederos clemency.
“We plan to move forward and to keep all options open in achieving justice for Rogel, including the possibility of clemency from Governor Polis,” Martinez said.
Colorado law allows for sentences for crimes deemed violent to be modified in cases with “unusual and extenuating circumstances”, but those sentences cannot take effect until 119 days after a person enters prison.
Aguilera-Mederos wept as he apologised to the victims’ families at his December 13 sentencing.
“When I look at my charges, we are talking about a murderer, which is not me,” he said. “I have never thought about hurting anybody in my entire life.”
Prosecutors had argued he should have used a runaway off-ramp designed for such situations. Aguilera-Mederos said he was struggling to avoid traffic and trying to shift gears to slow down.
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. Relatives of the victims supported at least some prison time for Aguilera-Mederos.