DENVER (AP): Colorado Gov. Jared Polis on Thursday shortened the prison sentence of a truck driver convicted in a deadly crash to 10 years, drastically reducing his original 110-year term that drew widespread outrage.
The decision on Rogel Aguilera-Mederos’ sentence was among several year-end commutations and pardons issued by Polis.
The move comes days after a judge scheduled a hearing for next month to reconsider the sentence at the request of the district attorney, who planned to ask that it be reduced to 20 to 30 years.
Around 5 million people signed an online petition seeking clemency for Aguilera-Mederos, who was convicted of vehicular homicide and other charges in the explosive 2019 pileup that killed four people.
Aguilera-Mederos testified that he was hauling lumber when the brakes on his semitrailer failed as he was descending a steep grade of Interstate 70 in the Rocky Mountain foothills. His truck plowed into vehicles that had slowed because of another wreck, setting off a chain-reaction crash and a fireball that consumed vehicles and melted parts of the highway.
Judge Bruce Jones imposed the 110-year sentence on Dec. 13 after finding it was the mandatory minimum term set forth under state law, noting it would not have been his choice.
Prosecutors had argued that as Aguilera-Mederos’ truck barreled down from the mountains, he could have used a runaway ramp alongside the interstate that is designed to safely stop vehicles that have lost their brakes.
District Attorney Alexis King said Thursday she was disappointed with the governor’s decision. She said it was premature and went against the wishes of the surviving victims and families who lost loved ones, who wanted to have the judge who oversaw the trial determine the appropriate sentence.
“We are meeting with the victims and their loved ones this evening to support them in navigating this unprecedented action and to ensure they are treated with fairness, dignity, and respect during this difficult time,” she said in a statement.
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.
In a letter to Aguilera-Mederos explaining his decision, Polis said that while he was not blameless in the crash, the 110-year sentence was disproportionate when compared with inmates who committed intentional, premeditated or violent crimes.
The governor said the case would hopefully spur a discussion about sentencing laws, but he noted any future changes would not help Aguilera-Mederos.
“There is an urgency to remedy this unjust sentence and restore confidence in the uniformity and fairness of our criminal justice system, and consequently I have chosen to commute your sentence now,” Polis wrote.
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