I-70 Crash Lawyer Says Trucker Took CDL Test in Spanish, Had No Mountain Driving Training
Denver, CO — A lawyer representing the trucker who was granted clemency after being convicted and sentenced to 110 years in prison for his role in the fiery 2019 crash on Interstate 70 is speaking out about the circumstances surrounding the high-profile case.
In an exclusive and wide-ranging interview with Transportation Nation Network (TNN), James Colgan, counsel for Rogel Lazaro Aguilera-Mederos, discussed aspects of the case many truckers have asked about.
In the aftermath of the April 25, 2019 crash, which claimed the lives of four people and injured six others, TNN reported Aguilera-Mederos held a commercial drivers license (CDL) issued by the state of Texas.
Many within the trucking community wanted to know if Aguilera-Mederos lawfully obtained his CDL or if it was obtained fraudulently as part of a bribery scheme which transportation officials in Texas, and other states, have been convicted of in recent years.
An ongoing TNN investigation has confirmed the Cuban immigrant truck driver held a Green Card and attended a truck driving school in Florida, before legally obtaining his CDL in Texas on December 27, 2018, less than four months before the deadly crash.
After the accident, questions regarding Aguilera-Mederos’s ability to understand English prompted concerns he did not meet federal regulations which require CDL drivers be able to “read and speak the English language sufficiently to converse with the general public, to understand highway traffic signs and signals in the English language, to respond to official inquiries, and to make entries on reports and records.”
Colgan confirmed to TNN Aguilera-Mederos took the written portion of the CDL test in Spanish, as federal regulations allow states to administer the knowledge tests in a foreign language, provided no interpreter is used.
“He struggles speaking English, but reads and writes it pretty well,” Colgan told TNN. “If you saw his sentencing [then] you saw he was capable of communicating in English.”
However, federal rules disallow the use of an interpreter during the CDL skills test and neither the applicant nor the examiner may communicate in a language other than English during the test.
Another frequently asked question is whether Aguilera-Mederos had received any mountain driving training during his time preparing to obtain his CDL or in the months after.
According to Colgan, the answer is “no.”
“Where are you going to get mountain driving in Florida? How is he going to get mountain driving at that school?” he questioned.
Colgan explained Aguilera-Mederos was completely unprepared for what he would face that tragic day.
“That was the first time he had ever driven a true mountain pass. He indicated he had been in some hills in Oregon and Montana but never anything with a significant grade like he dealt with in this particular case,” Colgan detailed.
However, in a post-crash interview with authorities obtained by TNN, Aguilera-Mederos claimed he had driven a big rig on that route along I-70 a handful of times.
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Still, Colgan argued Aguilera-Mederos’s employer at the time — the now-defunct Castellano 03 Trucking — should also bear some responsibility for the crash.
“Mr. Mederos made mistakes, but his employer should not have turned him loose on a mountain pass without experience. His immediate supervisor told him to take a particular route that required mountain experience and he most definitely didn’t have the experience to take that route, but who tells their boss ‘no’ when they are told to do something?”
At the time of the crash, the trucking company had a lengthy history of safety violations, including 30 in the prior 24 months with 23 maintenance-related violations, with ten of those pertaining to improper care of brakes.
Does he believe First Judicial District Attorney Alexis King will seek to hold Aguilera-Mederos’s former employer partially accountable?
“No, Mr. Mederos was the easiest guy to charge and convict,” Colgan commented.
The criminal defense attorney said he hopes this case will result in changes to federal regulations pertaining to the operation of commercial motor vehicles.
“I think there is a number of things that had they been in place would have prevented this from happening. The United States Department of Transportation (USDOT) should require mountain training before you drive mountains. The system needs to protect inexperienced drivers.”
As for Aguilera-Mederos, he will be eligible for parole on December 30, 2026, and will, at most, serve ten years in prison after Colorado Governor Jared Polis (D) exercised his power late last month and slashed the trucker’s sentence by 100 years.
“He is very thankful to all the people who supported him. That’s probably the best way to put it,” Colgan told TNN of his client’s reaction to the stunning and controversial conclusion to the case.