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The 110-year Prison Sentence

THE 110-YEAR PRISON SENTENCE

In the news recently was the story of what seemed to be a wildly disproportionate sentence for an accident involving a truck. On April 25, 2019, in Colorado, Rogel Aguilera-Mederos crashed a truck owned by the motor carrier Castellano 03 Trucking, LLC into several cars, killing 4 people. In October 2021, a jury found Mederos guilty of 27 counts, including vehicular homicide and vehicular assault. On December 13, 2021, Mederos was sentenced to 110 years in prison. Under Colorado state law, Mederos must serve the sentences for each count he was convicted of consecutively—resulting in the 110-year prison term.

Mederos stated at the time of the crash that his brakes had failed, and that the crash was a horrible accident for which he was truly sorry. Prosecutors conceded that Mederos had not intended to cause the crash, and that mechanical failure had played a role, but argued that Mederos’ decisions and actions that day caused the crash to be catastrophic. Mederos is originally from Cuba, is a legal permanent resident with a green card, had no criminal record, had no evidence of drugs or alcohol in his system at the time of the crash and was only 23 years old. He speaks broken English and required an interpreter at court proceedings and the trial.

The 110-year sentence came under immediate scrutiny. An online petition to commute the sentence has received approximately 5 million signatures to date. In a court hearing on Monday, Dec. 27, 2021, Prosecutors indicated that they would recommend a 20-30 year sentence, and Mederos’ attorneys filed a clemency request seeking a commutation of the sentence from Colorado Governor Jared Polis (the presiding Judge is bound by mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines). A court hearing on the re-sentencing is scheduled for January 13, 2022.

COMMON CAUSES OF TRUCKING ACCIDENTS

An investigation into the tragic Colorado truck crash found that safety and maintenance issues were a concern: Castellano 03 Trucking, LLC, had only 5 trucks in its fleet but had 17 violations from 19 roadside inspections in under 2 years. The company had incurred 10 violations related to brakes in the 2 years prior to the accident. Unfortunately, a failure to properly maintain and inspect a truck is a common cause of trucking accidents.

Castellano 03 Trucking, LLC, also had 2 violations related to its drivers’ inability to speak and understand English. This inability may have played a decisive role in the Colorado accident; the “decisions and actions” for which Prosecutors faulted Mederos were mainly, his “decision” not to steer the truck into the runaway truck ramp to his right, which would have allowed him to avoid the crash. It is thought that Mederos could not understand the road sign indicating the runaway ramp, and could not read previous road signs indicating the steep mountain decline, recommended speed reduction, etc. Not only was Mederos’ inability to speak and read English a factor, but his lack of training in mountain truck driving was also a factor. From Houston, Mederos had been hired by Castellano only 2 weeks before the crash and had never driven out-of-state.

In addition to a failure to properly maintain a truck, a driver’s inability to understand road signs, and a lack of proper driver training, driver fatigue and impairment also cause trucking accidents. Working long shifts without proper rest periods, and trying to make tight deadlines can lead to driver fatigue on the road. Drugs and alcohol can cause driver impairment. Both driver fatigue and impairment lead to accidents, and accidents involving trucks are more likely to cause severe injury and fatality due to the sheer size and weight of trucks. Speeding—also an issue when deadlines are tight—is also a factor in trucking accidents.

According to the U.S. DOT and NHTSA statistics released in October of 2021, January to June of 2021 saw an 18.4% increase in fatalities, or app. 20,000 people die on the nation’s highways. This is the largest number of fatalities for a six-month period of time since 2006. When analyzing behavioral trends, the NHTSA found that between March 2020 and June 2021, speeding and traveling without a seatbelt had increased.

LIABILITY

Under Georgia law, compensation for injuries to person and property due to a trucking accident follows a modified comparative negligence framework. This is legalistic language for a relatively simple concept: if you are determined to be less than 50% responsible for the accident, then you can recover, and your recovery is offset by the amount that you are responsible. For example, if you are found to be 10% responsible for an accident involving a truck, you are entitled to compensation and your recovery is reduced by that 10%.

As mentioned above, trucking accidents tend to involve more severe injuries and even deaths. It is crucial that if you are in an accident with a truck, you seek medical help at the scene or immediately following the accident, and that you document all treatment, rehabilitation, and missed work. If a loved one has died in an accident involving a truck, it is imperative that you follow through with the police investigation and any criminal charges that may be filed against the truck driver and/or company involved. Contact a personal injury attorney promptly to help you receive the compensation you deserve for medical costs, lost wages, and pain and suffering for injuries or wrongful death.

CONTACT YOUR ATTORNEY

If you or someone you know has been involved in an accident with a truck, contact Dave Thomas at The Thomas Law Firm for a free consultation regarding your legal rights.

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