Truck driver in fiery Colorado, US, crash charged with 40 counts, may face decades in prison
A highway crash killed at least four people and started a large fire on Interstate 70 along the western edge of Denver on Thursday, 25 April 2019, in a disaster that police say was triggered by a semitruck that slammed into a group of cars that were stopped in traffic. Police named the semi's driver as Rogel Lazaro Aguilera-Mederos, 23, a Texas resident who either couldn't or wouldn't stop his truck, ramming it into several cars that were backed up due to another crash farther down the highway, according to Ty Countryman of the Lakewood Police Department.
Aguilera-Mederos survived the catastrophic crash with minor injuries and is now in police custody. He is being charged with four counts of vehicular homicide.
As of late Friday morning, workers were still trying to remove cars and clean debris from the road. "The carnage was significant," Countryman said. "Just unbelievable."
The crash took place around 16h50 local time and involved at least 24 cars and four semis, Countryman said, in an update on the crash on Friday morning. Witnesses reported a chain reaction of collisions, followed immediately by a large fire. The truck that police say started the crash was carrying a flatbed trailer full of lumber. Two-by-fours were strewn across the road like matchsticks. Diesel fuel also spilled on the roadway, fire officials said.
The intense fire melted aluminium and burned as hot as 2 500 degrees Fahrenheit, said Josh Laipply, chief engineer at the Colorado Department of Transportation.
Six people were taken to the hospital, including the driver of the semi, Countryman said.
One fire fighter was injured while responding to the accident, "hit by debris when potentially a tire exploded," the West Metro Fire department said. Images from the scene showed a blooming cloud of black smoke hanging over the road. In the struggle to get water to the crash site and combat the flames, a group of nearby residents helped fire fighters carry a long fire hose to a hydrant in an apartment complex.
Soon after the crash, a video circulated online showing what witnesses said was the semi in question, barrelling down the highway at speeds as high as 80mph, just before the crash.
That video was filmed by Joshua McCutchen, who was taping a segment for his YouTube channel during the slowdown, when the truck sped past. McCutchen also spoke to a local man who said he rushed to help those in the crash after seeing it unfold.
The truck driver who crashed into stopped traffic on a Colorado interstate on 25 April 2019, setting off a wreck that killed four people and seriously injured two others, was formally charged on Friday, 3 May 2019, with three dozen felony counts. He potentially faces decades in prison, a prosecutor said. Rogel Lazaro Aguilera-Mederos, 23, is charged with 40 counts, including six counts of assault in the first degree and four counts of vehicular homicide, in the fiery April crash on I-70 eastbound near Denver.
District Attorney Pete Weir said Aguilera was "driving extremely fast and in a reckless manner" in an area where the speed limit for commercial vehicles is 45mph. The semi Aguilera was driving was estimated to have been going "in excess of 85 miles an hour," the DA said. "Mr Aguilera was observed by a number of citizens driving recklessly, swerving through various lanes of the road,” Weir, the district attorney for Jefferson and Gilpin counties, said at a news conference on Friday.
The truck with a trailer crashed into eastbound traffic that was stopped because of an accident ahead and the crash caused a fire that engulfed vehicles. The crash, which occurred in the city of Lakewood west of Denver just before 17h00, involved 28 vehicles.
Aguilera, who suffered minor injuries, told police that he was going 45mph, his brakes failed and the downhill grade caused the big rig to accelerate and that he tried the emergency brakes, according to an arrest warrant affidavit.
He said he attempted to manoeuvre to the right shoulder to avoid stopped traffic and when he saw that shoulder was blocked by another stopped semi-truck he swerved back into lanes of stopped traffic, according to an the affidavit.
Aguilera allegedly said that he thought he was going to die and closed his eyes before hitting stopped traffic, according to the affidavit. Another driver on I-70 who saw the semi speed past told police that the driver was "wide eyed" with a terrified look on his face, according to the document. Aguilera, who is Cuban-born and lives legally in Houston on a green card, has a valid commercial driver's license out of Texas, officials said.
His attorney, Robert Corry, did not immediately return a message seeking comment late Friday afternoon. Corry told reporters last week that it was a tragic accident. "Everybody agrees it was an accident,” Corry has said. “Law enforcement agrees it was an accident. Everybody who has been investigating or has looked at it believes it was an accident and it's tragic."
"We believe there was some sort of malfunction, something and there is pretty good evidence," Corry said, adding that Aguilera has no traffic offenses on his record, not even a speeding ticket.
Source: NBC News and Denver Post