GOLDEN, Colo. — Prosecution and defense attorneys presented different narratives Tuesday in the trial for a 2019 deadly, fiery crash on Interstate 70: a semi-truck driver who had many opportunities to prevent tragedy, or a man who was essentially a helpless passenger in a runaway truck.
Rogel Aguilera-Mederos faces 41 charges, including vehicular homicide, assault and attempted assault. Four people died and 10 others were treated for injuries in the crash that involved 24 passenger vehicles and four semi-trucks.
After two days of jury selection, the trial for Aguilera-Mederos opened Tuesday morning in Jefferson County District Court.
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 on I-70 on April 25, 2019.
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.
"He had several opportunities to make a decision, but he made a bunch of bad decisions once he figured out those brakes were out," Deputy District Attorney Kayla Wildeman said. "It could have been prevented."
She said Aguilera-Mederos could have used one of four runaway truck ramps that he drove past, or could have run the semi into grassy fields or the median to slow it down. She said he also had an earlier opportunity when he stopped on Berthoud Pass and his brakes were smoking, but he chose to continue driving.
Defense attorney James Colgan said the truck's brakes were not smoking on Berthoud Pass and that Aguilera-Mederos had no reason to think his equipment wasn't working at that time.
He said the defendant wasn't aware of any issue with his truck until he was on Floyd Hill and realized, when he attempted to change to a lower gear, that the brakes weren't working. He tried to stop the truck but was dealing with "catastrophic" mechanical failure.
"Mr. Mederos wasn’t really driving his truck," the defense said. "By the time this truck was at the bottom of the hill, no one was driving the truck. He was a passenger in a vehicle he could not control."
The prosecution called about 15 witnesses on Tuesday, including firefighters and law enforcement officers who responded to the crash, and people who were either involved in the crash or saw it happen.
Several witnesses who were stopped in traffic around the Denver West Boulevard exit that day testified seeing the semi, which was hauling lumber from Wyoming to Texas, traveling at high speed on the eastbound median of I-70 and then seeing smoke from the crash.
They testified that the semi did not blow its horn or activate emergency lights and that smoke was coming from its brakes.
Under defense cross-examination, they testified that they did not hear the engine or the Jake brake, which is a compression brake that helps trucks to slow down. Several witnesses said they did not hear the semi coming until the moment it passed them.
The defense said in its opening statement that was because the semi was in neutral and the braking systems had failed.
Four men died in the crash:
- Doyle Harrison
- William Bailey
- Miguel Angel Lamas Arellano
- Stanley Politano
According to Lakewood Police (LPD), Aguilera-Mederos was at the wheel of a tractor-trailer rig hauling lumber on I-70 about 5 p.m. when it barreled into a traffic backup at speeds estimated as high as 100 mph.
Aguilera-Mederos said his brakes went out while coming down the highway from the mountains. Prosecutors said they have no way to prove that because his semi was destroyed in the crash.
At the time of the crash, Aguilera-Mederos was working for Castellano 03 Trucking LLC, based in Houston. The trucking company has a documented history of safety issues, including prior problems relating to brakes.
The trial, which is scheduled for three weeks, will resume at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday.
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