Denver Defense Attorney, James Colgan’s work on behalf of clients never ends, in some cases even after conviction.
Described by former clients as a “bulldog in the courtroom,” Colgan was successful in petitioning for clemency for a trucker convicted and sentenced to 110 years in prison for his role in a fiery 2019 crash on Interstate 70. Colorado Gov. Jared Polis granted the request and reduced the sentence to 10 years, making Rogel Lazaro Aguilera-Mederos, 26, eligible for parole after six years.
Aguilera-Mederos was driving an 18-wheeler when he crashed into more than two dozen stopped vehicles and four semi trailers on Interstate 70 in Lakewood after losing his brakes while descending a mountain pass. Those killed were: Miguel Angel Lamas Arellano, 24, William Bailey, 67, Doyle Harrison, 61, and Stanley Politano, 69.
With Aguilera-Mederos found guilty of 27 counts, and not guilty of 15 others, Colgan had argued for a reduced sentence of 20 years. But District Court Judge Bruce Jones imposed the 110-year sentence after finding it was the mandatory minimum sentence set forth under state law and that he had no discretion to impose a shorter prison term.
A veteran Denver defense attorney, Colgan noted it was just another example of legislative minimum sentences leading to failed justice.
“There are no winners here, judge,” Colgan said. “No one wins, no matter what. We have a courtroom full of broken lives… It’s just tragic. There is no other way to put it.”
Aguilera-Mederos, a Cuban immigrant truck driver, held a Green Card and attended a truck driving school in Florida, before legally obtaining his CDL in Texas. The young immigrant has been devastated by the tragedy. Colgan said much of the blame belongs with the now defunct trucking company, which had a poor safety record and ordered him to take a route through the mountains despite his lack of experience.
At the time of the crash, the trucking company had a lengthy history of safety violations, including 30 in the prior 24 months, including 23 maintenance-related violations, with 10 of those pertaining to improper care of brakes.
Colgan also defended his client against allegations that he had improperly earned his CDL license, after rumors that his Texas residency could indicate that the license was fraudulently obtained. Aguilera-Mederos’s successfully completed commercial driving school in Florida, which did not include mountain training, and properly passed his exams in his home state of Texas.
After the accident, questions regarding Aguilera-Mederos’s ability to understand English prompted concerns he did not meet federal regulations. Colgan confirmed to Transportation Nation Network that 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.
Colgan said Aguilera-Mederos could read and write English acceptably, but was self-conscious about speaking it, as are most second-language learners.
Before the governor’s clemency decision, Judge Jones had indicated he would reconsider the sentence, as permitted by law. Prosecutors had called for a reduced sentence of 20 to 30 years, although Colgan called the request disingenuous as it came only after 5 million people signed a petition and public outcry arose over prosecutors trading a trophy made out of a semi brake pad.
"Two weeks ago, they (prosecutors) were perfectly fine with my client getting 110 years until there was a public outcry,” he told Reuters after the hearing. “It’s all political.”