A boycott movement is spreading amongst professional truck drivers following the 110-year prison sentence given this week to Rogel Aguilera-Mederos for the 25-year-old Cuban immigrant’s role in a 2019 crash that caused a 28-car pileup and left four dead.
#JusticeforRogelAguilera, #justiceforrogelaguileramederos, and #BoycottColorado are among the rising hashtags on social media, where numerous truckers are swearing to avoid the state altogether on their routes.
Yesterday, a blockade featuring dozens of semis stretched along both sides of a Denver highway, in solidarity with the condemned man. In addition, a Change.org petition has accrued nearly 3 million signatures in support of giving clemency to Aguilera-Mederos.
Those supporting the convicted truck driver feel the 40 counts he was initially hit with and his ensuing conviction on four counts of vehicular homicide, among others, is undeserved and unfair, fitting the definition of a cruel and unusual punishment in violation of his Eighth Amendment rights.
The accident does not appear to be any kind of intentional act to kill and maim people that might be deserving of a life sentence. At the time of the April 2019 accident, which occurred along Denver’s I-70, Aguilera-Mederos was coming out of a mountainous area, descending a grade traveling east with a load of wood boards.
Traveling downhill at a high speed, traffic suddenly stopped in front of him. With a truck already parked on the right-hand shoulder, he pulled sharply to the left, then directly smashed into the backed-up traffic, causing a fiery crash that engulfed over 28 automobiles and killed four Colorado residents.
Prosecutors cited witness reports that the driver had been speeding recklessly and swerving, and he himself admitted to driving at twice the maximum allotted speed for a semi. Video taken at the time of the incident shows Aguilera-Mederos scrambling across lanes in front of other traffic shortly before the crash.
Others have called his driving experience and English-speaking abilities into question, wondering why he didn’t use an available runaway truck ramp or heed road signs warning of the steep grades. Or simply not go 85 MPH when 45 MPH was the safety standard.
Aguilera-Mederos, who has a commercial license from Texas, a clean driving record, no criminal history, and was not found to be intoxicated at the time of the accident, maintains that his brakes didn’t work as he lost the ability to change gears and lost control. The driver has expressed deep remorse for the accident, and even said he wished he could have taken his own life that day.
“I ask God too many times why them and not me?” he said through tears in court. “Why did I survive that accident?”
Truck drivers asked to comment have claimed that semis traveling at such high speeds have basically zero ability to brake fast and that the driver should have known this and observed required safety standards. Those in support of Rogel say no one should be blamed but the trucking company that employed him.
In a statement, the Jefferson County judge presiding over his case said, “I accept and respect what the defendant has said about his lack of intent to hurt people, but he made a series of terrible decisions, reckless decisions,” and said he had to stick the guidelines of the law in sentencing Aguilera-Mederos. What is inarguable is that the accident Rogel caused that day is a massive tragedy for the many involved and their families.
But the optics are certainly not lost on Rogel’s supporters that he is a Spanish-speaking immigrant being convicted to a harsh sentence in an increasingly diverse city that is still 66% white and has a reputation as a hotbed of anti-immigrant political movements.
Rogel’s supporters, from Colorado to his birthplace of Cuba, as well as the meme-makers who take his side, are citing the numerous public slaps-on-the-wrist that have been recently doled out to white defendants for more intentional killings and reckless acts that resulted in deaths.
National cases like that of Kyle Rittenhouse, the white teen who also shed tears in court before being exonerated for shooting three people, killing two of them, during a racial justice protest in Wisconsin. Who is currently being vaulted to hero status within the white wing. Er, right-wing.
And cases that hit hard at home, such as the February killing of 32-year-old Monique Munoz by a rich 17-year-old speeding in a Lamborghini in the Sawtelle neighborhood of Los Angeles, handed a light four-month sentence in a juvenile camp. Or the 2019 killing of three children when an Indiana woman failed to stop at a sign, resulting in a four-year sentence.
With this two-faced justice system condemning Aguilera-Mederos to life in prison for what many supporters see as textbook manslaughter, truck drivers and all others who see injustice in his sentence are letting their voices be heard.
L.A. TACO will update this story as it develops.