DENVER — Just four days after the truck driver convicted of the fiery I-70 crash that killed four people was sentenced to prison, there are growing calls for his sentence to be commuted.
Nearly 3.3 million people have signed a change.org petition calling for Aguilera-Mederos to have his sentence commuted or to be pardoned, saying the crash was a tragedy but the sentencing is unfair. On social media, posts are also petitioning for truck drivers to boycott Colorado until Aguilera-Mederos is released or the law is changed.
What’s behind the 110 years sentence?
Aguilera-Mederos was found guilty on 42 counts, including vehicular homicide, first-degree assault, attempted first-degree assault, vehicular assault, reckless driving and careless driving.
“In Colorado, felonies have strict prison term ranges or sentence ranges,” said Ian Farrell, an associate professor at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law. “The second factor, which is really doing the work here, is in Colorado, there are sentencing enhancers whenever you commit a crime of violence.”
A crime of violence is one that involves someone being killed or serious bodily injury. One of the enhancers in Aguilera-Mederos' case increases the minimum sentence per count while the other mandates that the sentences must be served consecutively instead of concurrently, meaning one after the other.
Another factor Farrell says is behind that 110-year sentence is that prosecutors tend to charge as many felonies as the can. He says a big reason for this is to encourage plea bargains.
“Like many other people in the community, I think that this length of sentence for this particular thing was vastly disproportionate,” Farrell said. “Even if another person is charged and convicted of multiple heinous, intentional murders, they would get the same penalty as this defendant, which I think is inappropriate.”
Because Colorado did away with the death penalty, life in prison is the harshest punishment a convict can be sentenced to.
While Colorado is not the only state with mandatory minimums, it does have harsher penalties than even some states that purport to be tough on crime. One example is extreme indifference murder. In some states, it’s considered a lower-level crime than intentional murder, but in Colorado, they are on the same level.
Farrell doesn’t believe a pardon from Governor Jared Polis is likely, though the governor does have discretion on a possible commutation. Instead, he believes the Aguilera-Mederos case highlights the need for some possible legislative changes.
“If I was going to suggest one change of the law to the Colorado legislature, it would be to abolish, or at least alter, the consecutive sentencing rules,” he said.
A Colorado boycott?
On social media, the hashtags #DontDriveColorado and #NoTrucksColorado have started gaining traction. There are videos of people who claim to be truck drivers promising to avoid the state until Aguilera-Mederos is released.
Denver7 reached out to the people who posted several of these videos and called the truck companies they claimed to work for but did not hear back.
Greg Fulton, president of the Colorado Motor Carriers Association, says he has not been made aware of any boycotts and is unaware of any disruption to the supply chain.
“I’m not seeing really anything that’s showing up of that boycott in terms of companies missing shipments or other things like that,” he said.
A video showing trucks pulled over on the side of a highway is also being quickly shared on social media, claiming to be a protest of Colorado. However, Fulton says he has checked with companies, drivers and CDOT cameras, and he doesn’t believe that is an accurate description of the video. Instead, he believes that video was taken at a different time when the highway was closed down, possibly due to weather or an accident, since no other cars are driving on the roadway.
While Fulton does feel bad for the driver, he says the petition that is circulating is incorrect in calling the crash a mechanical failure.
“I think in our eyes it is inexperience, a lack of familiarity with the driver of the mountains,” he said. “I don’t think the company should have put them in this position.”
He blames the crash on the driver, saying Aguilera-Mederos didn’t downshift or brake properly and didn’t take the runaway ramps when he had a chance.
“I think it’s important that as an industry, we take responsibility when things like this occur,” Fulton said.
Because of that, Fulton doesn’t agree with the calls for a pardon or for the commutation of the driver’s sentence. However, he agrees that 110 years does seem too stiff. He hopes at some point the sentence can be reevaluated or scaled back.
Fulton also doesn’t want to lose sight of the victims who were lost and the many others who were affected by the tragedy. He wants to see more outreach to out-of-state truck companies to make them aware of the dangers of driving in Colorado mountains, more driver training and more enforcement of speeding in the mountains.