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Trailer brakes were 'basically nonexistent', defense witness says

Rogel Aguilera-Mederos faces 41 charges, including vehicular homicide, assault and attempted assault in connection with the 2019 crash.

LAKEWOOD, Colo. — The defense is beginning its case in the trial for the man charged in connection with the fiery crash on Interstate 70 in 2019 that killed four men and injured 10 others.

Prosecutors wrapped up their case Tuesday morning after giving opening statements on Sept. 28. Earlier in the trial, the defense said they expected to need roughly four days for its case.

RELATED: 'It still haunts me to this day': Witnesses recall surviving fiery I-70 crash

Rogel Aguilera-Mederos faces 41 charges, including vehicular homicide, assault and attempted assault in connection with the April 25, 2019 crash.

>The video above is a recap of opening statements from the trial.

Four men were killed in the crash:

  • Doyle Harrison
  • William Bailey
  • Miguel Angel Lamas Arellano
  • Stanley Politano

A forensic pathologist testified that all four of them died from blunt force injuries caused by the crash and were dead before the fire.

The first witness for the defense was a diesel instructor from Lincoln Tech who provided testimony about the braking systems of commercial trucks.

Dylan Johnson testified that following the crash he inspected the truck that was driven by Aguilera-Mederos on more than one occasion. He said he found there was an issue with the brakes on the trailer due to a gap between the brake shoe and the drum. 

"In three of the four wheels we looked at, the brakes were so far out of adjustment that they would not have made physical contact with the drums," he said. "The other one we looked at made very little contact so the little bit that would have been able to help would have been inconsequential."

He called this a "mechanical issue" and said it would have caused the brakes on the trailer to malfunction. In turn, he said, that would have caused issues with the tractor brakes which could have caused those brakes to fail before the driver was even aware there was an issue because the trailer brakes were "basically nonexistent."

"That meant the brakes on the tractor would have to do all the work to slow the load down, which would have caused the tractor brakes to overheat very, very, very quickly and then glaze and lose their efficiency to slow the truck down," he said. "By the time he [the driver] realized it, they [the tractor brakes] would have already malfunctioned."

In later testimony, he said the heat of the fire could have caused the drums to warp but also that when they measured them they didn't find significant warping. He also testified that the brakes on that trailer might have been defective but functioned during the trip from Houston to Dumont because that part of the trip didn't have the steep grades that occur on Interstate 70.

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. 

Credit: Lakewood Police Department
Rogel Lazaro Aguilera-Mederos

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.

RELATED: Truck driver charged in deadly crash looked 'terrified' miles before fiery crash, witness says

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