Prominent Colorado Lawyer Scorches Prosecutors In I-70 Crash Case
Denver, Colorado – A prominent Colorado criminal defense lawyer specializing in traffic accidents issued a stinging rebuke to Jefferson County prosecutors after they filed an avalanche of charges against the truck driver allegedly responsible for the deadly 28-vehicle crash along I-70 on April 25.
On Friday, prosecutors formally filed 40 counts, including 36 felonies, against 23-year-old truck driver Rogel Lazaro Aguilera-Mederos.
The slew of felonies included: four counts of vehicular homicide, six counts of first-degree assault, two counts of vehicular assault and 24 counts of attempt first-degree assault.
Additionally, prosecutors filed 4 other charges which included, one count of reckless driving and three counts of crime of violence.
“We filed charges based upon our belief that Mr. Aguilera-Mederos acted with extreme indifference,” Jefferson County District Attorney, Pete Weir, said at a news conference to announce the list of charges. “If we are successful in this prosecution, he is looking at many, many, many years in the Department of Corrections.”
Jay Tiftickjian is the President of the Colorado Criminal Defense Bar and specializes in DUI and traffic offenses.
In an exclusive interview with Transportation Nation Network, Tiftickjian scorched prosecutors for what he believes are excessive charges.
“It seems like this is outrageously overcharged,” Tiftickjian said. “They are throwing every felony which can possibly be conceived at him (Mederos).”
Tiftickjian asserted Weir’s motivation is less about justice and more about politics.
“The public is very upset about this accident and the DA, who is an elected official, is obviously more concerned about his reputation in the community than justice. I think he is trying to use this case as a political platform so that the public sees they are trying to do something about it,” Tiftickjian exclaimed.
At his Friday presser, Weir defended the decision to file a mountain of charges.
“The number of counts reflects the magnitude of the incident and the number of people that were either hurt or could have been hurt as a result of his (Mederos) actions,” Weir explained. “We filed the charges we feel the facts support.”
Tiftickjian isn’t buying it though, pointing to the treatment of Mederos by law enforcement and prosecutors so far.
“The DA’s office immediately had him arrested, requested a bond amount no reasonable person would be able to pay, and hurried up and charged the case within a week before the investigation was even completed,” he said.
Tiftickjian said charging a case before an investigation is completed is highly irregular.
Weir confirmed during Friday’s press briefing that the investigation is ongoing calling the case “complex.”
To win a conviction on the charges, Weir and his team must prove Mederos acted in a “reckless manner” and “knowingly engaged in conduct that resulted in death or serious bodily injury.”
The public is very upset about this accident and the DA, who is an elected official, is obviously more concerned about his reputation in the community than justice. I think he is trying to use this case as a political platform so that the public sees they are trying to do something about it. – Jay Tiftickjian, President of the Colorado Criminal Defense Bar
District Attorney Weir said this case centers around two key decisions made by Mederos.
First, Mederos had an opportunity to take a runaway ramp 3 miles from the crash scene before he completely lost control of his flatbed rig which was hauling a load of lumber.
Video of Mederos’ semi driving erratically, and at an estimated speed of 85 mph, emerged shortly after the crash.
Weir made reference to the video and said Mederos should have taken the “clearly marked” ramp.
His decision not to do so was “reckless,” Weir argued.
However, even Weir acknowledged the Cuban-born Mederos may not have been able to read or even process English under such duress.
“There is some indication Mr. Augilla-Mederos does have some familiarity with English, but the extent of that is still to be determined,” Weir conceded.
Second, was a few moments later when Mederos moved to the right shoulder to avoid traffic along I-70, but saw another semi parked on the shoulder up ahead.
Instead of colliding with the semi and potentially limiting the overall loss of life, Mederos made a different choice.
“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,” Weir stated. “Mr. Aguilera-Mederos then caused collisions with 28 vehicles. As a result of Mr. Auguilera’s actions four people died.”
According to the arrest affidavit, Mederos told investigators the brakes on his flatbed semi-truck failed in the minutes leading up to the crash, and though he admitted to becoming panicked, he contended he never intended to harm anyone.
Further complicating matters is the truck driver’s apparent lack of experience, especially on Colorado’s mountainous I-70 route.
According to a report by Fox31 in Denver, Aliet Diaz, who is a close friend to Mederos, indicated the trucker had only been driving outside of the state of Texas for two weeks.
Houston, Texas-based Castellano 03 Trucking had hired him only two weeks before, and Diaz told the local news outlet Mederos was “so happy” he could drive outside of Texas because it meant he could earn more money.
Add to this the fact that Castellano 03 Trucking has a serious history of brake-related violations, as TNN reported last week.
Weir said “it had not been determined” if the semi-truck Mederos was operating at the time of the crash experienced “brake failure” as Mederos contends.
Further, Weir said ascertaining such information with certainty would be difficult.
“The vehicle itself was completely destroyed, so its not in a position to have a mechanical inspection performed. There will be other means by which we hopefully can determine whether or not brakes were the cause of the accident,” he said.
Tiftickjian said based on what he’s learned so far, he believes Mederos could have a solid defense.
“I would want to know all of the evidence of mechanical failures and issues that the trucking company may have had with safety. If this driver was not aware of issues with the truck, then the company may be civilly and criminally liable,” Tiftickjian explained.
Tiftickjian argued that even the lead investigator on the case acknowledged Mederos never intended to harm anyone.
He believes more appropriate charges would be careless driving causing death and careless driving causing bodily harm which are Class 1 misdemeanors.
Under Colorado law, if found guilty on these charges, the offender typically receives up to 1 year in jail per count.
“The number of counts reflects the magnitude of the incident and the number of people that were either hurt or could have been hurt as a result of his actions. We filed the charges we feel the facts support.” Pete Weir, Jefferson County District Attorney
Tiftickjian also believes Weir could be stacking charges in an effort to intimidate Mederos into taking a plea deal.
He confirmed Weir has a history of deploying such a tactic and called it “unfortunate.”
If Mederos ultimately chooses not to seek a plea deal with prosecutors, Tiftickjian said it is likely he and his representation will opt for a 12-person jury trial rather than a court trial, which would put the verdict in the hands of a judge.
However, don’t expect that to happen any time soon.
“It would likely take at least a year to get to the trail,” Tiftickjian predicted.
Read more of Transportation Nation Network’s comprehensive reporting on this story HERE.