LAKEWOOD, Colo. — Multiple people testified Wednesday about melting vehicles and horrendous sounds following a sudden, fiery crash on Interstate 70 in April 2019 that involved 28 vehicles and led to the deaths of four men. Ten others were hurt.
Rogel Aguilera-Mederos faces 41 charges, including vehicular homicide, assault and attempted assault in connection with the crash.
"It's the day I almost lost my life," said Alex Laguardia when she was asked why she remembered the date of April 25, 2019 so well. "It still haunts me to this day, every day."
She said she was headed to work when she got stuck in traffic on eastbound I-70 near Denver West Parkway. She testified that she was about to call her work to let them know she was running late when she heard a loud bang.
"I was already in it," she said, describing how she had no time to react.
She was in shock, she said, and didn't initially realize that her Jeep had actually been pushed on top of another vehicle.
"It was like from nowhere, kaboom," said Jennifer Souders who was in that other vehicle."I knew what hit me when I ran and saw the Jeep on top of my car."
Laguardia recounted how she saw another driver crawling out of his car window and how he told her she needed to get out.
She said she crawled on roofs of multiple vehicles before jumping to the ground where she encountered the same man she had seen crawling from his vehicle. He was laying in the grass and she said she pulled him up and they both ran up the grassy hillside where she watched her Jeep burn.
"I watched for a while until they made me get into the ambulance and leave," she said.
Laguardia suffered a laceration to her forehead that required stitches as well as cuts to her arms and shins. She said once in the hospital she was diagnosed with a mild concussion and whiplash.
Lucianne McDonald had gotten off from work early that day and was headed home to Arvada. She testified that she was in the far left lane with the semi-truck in the middle lane next to her, when she suddenly saw that semi-truck get "jarred" forward and then saw flames.
She said the truck driver got out of his truck and that she grabbed her keys and purse and also exited her car.
"I just stood there and looked at the cars burning, somebody yelled to get away, so I ran across the highway," she said. “I saw it melt, the fire just melted it,” she said when describing damage to her car.
Scott Nordby and his daughter, who was 15 at the time, were also caught in the crash. They were headed back from Breckenridge to their home in Henderson. His daughter, Adison, who only had her learner's permit, was driving their truck that afternoon.
He gave a long pause before recounting what happened that day.
"There was a shocking, if not horrendous sound. We thought it was on top of the bridge. Then there was a second loud noise, at that point, we could see the truck coming," he testified. "First bang, I looked up and thought holy mackerel, second bang, I looked saw the truck coming. It was coming fast and crashing into cars."
He recounted feeling panicked with his daughter, an inexperienced driver, behind the wheel.
"I remember screaming at my daughter," he said. "At that moment, I felt out of control, just screaming at her to go go go go!"
He described complete chaos as his daughter floored it and managed to get them mostly out of harm's way.
"There were cars exploding and blowing up and flying through the air," he said. "It was horrendous sounds."
Neither of them was hurt but their truck was damaged as it hit or was hit by other vehicles.
Four men died in the crash:
- Doyle Harrison
- William Bailey
- Miguel Angel Lamas Arellano
- Stanley Politano
A forensic pathologist testified Wednesday afternoon that all four of them died from blunt force injuries caused by the crash and all of them were dead before the fire.
In their opening statements, attorneys for the prosecution and defense both said that Aguilera-Mederos realized the brakes on his 18-wheeler weren't working when he went over Floyd Hill.
The prosecution said Aguilera-Mederos had multiple chances to prevent the crash and did not take them, while the defense said that Aguilera-Mederos was the victim of a series of mechanical failures in his truck and had no control over it as it sped down the steep hill toward the Denver metro area.
Pedro Olvera testified earlier Wednesday and described how he had seen the truck on the highway prior to the crash as he and several coworkers were headed home from a construction job in the mountains.
He said the truck, driven by Aguilera-Mederos, cut him off near the Buffalo Overlook on the highway. He said his work truck has a maximum speed of 75 mph and that he "could not keep up" with the truck after it cut him off and passed him.
He also described seeing the truck's brakes smoking and said he could smell burning. When he saw a runaway truck ramp, he said he began recording, because he thought the truck was going to use it.
"How cool would it be to record that," Olvera recalled thinking.
The videos though do not show that, instead, they show the truck continuing past the truck ramp. Olvera also said he witnessed the truck swerving in and out of traffic, which he believed was to avoid hitting other cars.
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