Truck driver in I-70 crash to serve 10 years in prison instead of 110 after commutation from Gov. Polis

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
Yoel Varela Diaz speaks during a rally for Rogel Aguilera-Mederos on the Colorado State Capitol steps. Dec. 22, 2021.

Gov. Jared Polis has commuted the sentence of the truck driver who in 2019 crashed into traffic on Interstate 70, killing four people.

Polis announced Thursday that Rogel Lazaro Aguilera-Mederos will serve 10 years in prison instead of his original sentence of 110. 

Aguilera-Mederos was sentenced in mid-December for the accident, which happened after the brakes on his truck failed and he passed a runaway truck ramp. The 28-car pile-up closed I-70 in Lakewood for a day. 

A petition asking the governor for a reduced sentence for Aguilera-Mederos has received over 5 million signatures, and supporters rallied in Denver on his behalf on Dec. 22

In his letter to Aguilera-Mederos, Polis reminded him of the seriousness of the crime, but said he considered the 110-year sentence "disproportionate."

"You were sentenced to 110 years in prison, effectively more than a life sentence, for a tragic but unintentional act," Polis wrote. "While you are not blameless, your sentence is disproportionate compared with many other inmates in our criminal justice system who committed intentional, premeditated, or violent crimes."

Polis also referred to the remorse shown by Aguilera-Mederos as he tried to find a just punishment for the crime.

"You have wondered why your life was spared when other lives were taken," Polis wrote. "You will struggle with this burden of this event for the rest of your life, but never forget that because of this event, countless others will struggle with the loss of their loved ones or injuries as well. And you will serve your just sentence."

Polis, who has the constitutional authority to grant pardons, clemency and commutations, inserted himself into the case even as a Jefferson County District Court judge planned a hearing to reconsider the sentence. District Attorney Alexis King said previously she would ask the court to resentence Aguilera-Mederos to 20 to 30 years in prison. The judge asked for briefs to be filed in the case by Jan. 10.

In a statement issued Thursday night, King questioned the timing of Polis's decision to intervene in the case.

"We are disappointed in the Governor's decision to act prematurely," King wrote. "I joined the surviving victims and families of those who lost their loved ones in their wish to have the trial judge determine an appropriate sentence in this case, as he heard the facts and evidence of the defendant's destructive conduct that led to death, injury, and devastating destruction. We are meeting with the victims and their loved ones this evening to support them in navigating this unprecedented action and to ensure they are treated with fairness, dignity, and respect during this difficult time."

Polis on Thursday also granted two other commutations, 15 pardons, and a mass pardon of 1,351 people convicted of possession of two ounces or less of marijuana.

The pardons went to 15 Coloradans who have completed their sentences and shown the governor that they have changed their lives. Most had prior drug convictions, and, in letters to each recipient, Polis described the steps each had taken and used identical language to describe the reason he was granting the pardon.

"Not everyone earns the privilege of a second chance but you have demonstrated that you deserve one," Polis wrote to each. "I hope you will make the most of this opportunity and treat your obligations seriously."