Trial opens for trucker in I-70 crash that killed 4

A Jefferson County jury must decide whether a 28-vehicle pileup that killed four people on Interstate 70 was a tragic accident or a criminal act, attorneys for both sides said Tuesday during opening statements in the trial of the truck driver who caused the crash.

Prosecutors argued that trucker Rogel Lazaro Aguilera-Mederos, 25, missed numerous opportunities to prevent the tragedy and made a series of bad decisions that ultimately rose to a criminal level. Aguilera-Mederos faces 41 charges in connection with the April 25, 2019 crash, including vehicular homicide and assault.

“He barrels his 77,000-pound truck into a sea of cars that are sitting ducks and have nowhere to go,” deputy district attorney Kayla Wildeman told jurors. “And BOOM — there’s an explosion.”

Aguilera-Mederos’ defense attorney, James Colgan, told jurors the crash was an unavoidable catastrophe and that Aguilera-Mederos did everything he knew how to do to slow his truck, but was overwhelmed by circumstances out of his control. Aguilera-Mederos sat with his head down at the start of the trial, and dabbed his eyes with a tissue during the prosecution’s opening statement.

“This is about whether or not this was a catastrophic accident caused by catastrophic and unpredictable circumstances that occurred in a once-in-a-hundred-year event,” Colgan said.

The prosecution on Tuesday played video footage taken by a bystander of the crash, which happened on I-70 under a bridge near Colorado Mills Parkway in Lakewood when Aguilera-Mederos drove his rig into stopped traffic after losing his brakes as he descended from Colorado’s high country.

Those killed were: Miguel Angel Lamas Arellano, 24, William Bailey, 67, Doyle Harrison, 61, and Stanley Politano, 69. Six others were injured.

The video showed the truck zoom past the bystander’s van on the right shoulder, then captured a huge plume of black smoke rising above the highway ahead, followed by flames and sirens. Some in the courtroom wept as they watched the footage Tuesday. A firefighter who responded to the scene likened it to a “war zone.”

Wildeman told jurors that Aguilera-Mederos was seen driving recklessly hours before the fatal crash, and that he pulled over and knew his brakes were having problems after he came over Berthoud Pass, but decided to keep driving anyway.

Colgan said Aguilera-Mederos’ truck was stuck in neutral as he descended on the highway, and because the rig was not in gear, he could not engage the truck’s engine brake. He said Aguilera-Mederos tried to apply the trailer’s brakes and pulled the emergency brake, to no effect. Aguilera-Mederos was hauling a full load of lumber from Wyoming to Texas.

“This was someone who could not control a runaway vehicle, even with his best efforts and everything he knew how to do,” Colgan said. “He could not control this vehicle. He wasn’t driving it. No one was capable of driving it at this point.”

Aguilera-Mederos passed at least one runaway truck ramp after he lost his brakes, Wildeman said, but he did not take it. He also ignored grassy fields beside the interstate and did not try to steer his truck into the open median between the eastbound and westbound lanes or run it into a guardrail to slow down.

She said Aguilera-Mederos ran away from the crash after his truck finally stopped.

“While people are going towards the fire to save others, the defendant runs away, leaving everything behind him to burn,” she said.

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