Are Truck Drivers Held Accountable For Multiple-Vehicle Pileups?

What would you do if your car brakes failed while going down a steep hill? Would you make all the right decisions? What if there was another vehicle blocking the shoulder? Would you panic? Could you even put yourself in that position without having been there yourself? Essentially, that was the question put forth to the jury that eventually found Rogel Lazaro Aguilera-Mederos guilty on 27 criminal counts. He was sentenced to an awe-inspiring 110 years in jail.

The pileup in question resulted in four deaths. 

Colorado Governor Polis eventually commuted the man’s sentence to just ten years after growing frustration at the injustice. Polis wrote Rogel, “You were sentenced to 110 years in prison, effectively more than a life sentence, for a tragic but unintentional act. 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.”

The entire point of personal injury and wrongful death law is that unintentional acts should still be punished when gross negligence caused them. In Rogel’s case, the question is different for some. Is negligence still negligence when it stems from panic?

Prosecutors for the District Attorney’s office promised to make public “new information” about the case, but attorneys for Rogel snapped back. “It wouldn’t matter what she disclosed now,” said defense attorney James Colgan. “I’m not aware of any law that allows [the DA’s office] to have jurisdiction over the case.”

Jefferson County District Attorney Alexis King said, “We are disappointed in the Governor’s decision to act prematurely. 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.”

Prosecutors did not dispute that Rogel’s brakes failed when trying the case. They disputed whether or not he made the right decisions at the right time — in a situation where people commonly panic.