A trucker has been charged with 40 counts, including vehicular homicide and first-degree assault, in the deadly and massive traffic pileup outside Denver last week, the Jefferson County district attorney’s office said Friday.
Rogel Lazaro Aguilera-Mederos, 23, faces 36 felonies: four counts of vehicular homicide, six counts of first-degree assault, two counts of vehicular assault and 24 counts of attempt first-degree assault, among others, District Attorney Pete Weir said at a news conference.
The four other charges are one count of reckless driving and three counts of crime of violence. Weir explained that the six first-degree assault charges involve the four killed and two seriously hurt and the 24 counts involved people in all of the vehicles in the collision.
“There is a relationship between each count that was filed and a separate individual that either died, was seriously hurt, or was placed in extraordinary risk of seriously bodily injury or death,” Weir said. “The number of counts reflects the magnitude of the incident and the number of people that were hurt or could have been hurt by his actions.”
At a brief Friday court hearing, Aguilera was seen on a video link, with his attorney was seated next to him.
The reading of charges was waived and the next court appearance is a preliminary hearing set for July 11. The truck driver has been held at the country jail on a $400,000 bond.
“Potentially,” Weir said, Aguilera “could be looking at decades in the Department of Corrections.”
The 28-vehicle pileup took place on April 25 in the eastbound lanes of Interstate 70 at Denver West Parkway.
Four Colorado residents were killed in the crash: Doyle Harrison, 61, of Hudson; Miguel Lamas Arrellano, 24, of Denver and Stanley Politano, 69, and William Bailey, 67, both of Arvada.
The arrest affidavit said more than two dozen vehicles were engulfed by a “large fire.” Four people were injured.
Seen ‘driving extremely fast’
Weir said the suspect had been seen “driving extremely fast in a reckless matter.”
The speed limit for a commercial vehicle like the semi truck and trailer Aguilera was driving is 45 miles per hour, he said. The estimated speed of the suspect’s truck exceeded 85 miles per hour, Weir said.
“Mr. Aguilera was observed by a number of citizens driving recklessly, swerving through various lanes of the road until he descended I-70 in the right-hand lane of travel. At that time he saw a semi truck that was parked off the shoulder right at 1-70 and Denver West.
“He made the decision at that time to swerve left into the cars that had been backed up as a result of an accident” that occurred earlier.
Suspect claims breaks failed
Investigators say Aguilera-Mederos told them he was driving at 85 mph when his brakes failed. He tried to pull over to the shoulder to avoid stopped traffic but another semi had stopped there, an arrest affidavit shows. Weir said this is under investigation.
Robert Corry, the suspect’s attorney, and Weir dispute the nature of the incident. Weir called it a crash but isn’t calling it an “accident.”
Corry says the prosecution is overreaching with its criminal charges and stresses that the incident was indeed an accident. The case has ballooned from six charges to many more, and the first-degree assault charges, a Class Three felony in Colorado that carries a mandatory prison sentence, don’t apply, Corry said.
The trucker’s wife posted a message from her husband on Facebook. He thanked people for supporting, praying for and helping him and defended himself, saying “what they are doing is not just.”
“I never thought I’d have a world of people supporting me,” he said in the message. “I never imagined there were so many people defending my name.”
He said he is looking forward to his release so he can “personally give thanks” for “everything you’ve done for me and frankly I am extremely grateful. Without your support none of this would have been possible.”