People Power: The Difference Between Life in Prison and a Future

Social media has given people the platform to voice their opinions on controversial news stories, whether it’s their political views or which fast food restaurant has the best chicken sandwich. In October 2021, it was Rogel Aguilera-Mederos’ prison sentence that caught the attention of millions.

Aguilera-Mederos was a truck driver carrying lumber in April 2019 near Lakewood, Colorado. His brakes malfunctioned and he crashed into three other semi-trucks and 12 cars, which resulted in multiple fires and explosions, killing four people. Aguilera-Mederos was arrested, and charged with multiple counts of vehicular homicide.

In October 2021, the jurisdiction found Aguilera-Mederos guilty on four counts of vehicular homicide, and under Colorado law, was sentenced to 110 years in prison. He was accused of negligence, as prosecutors said he knew his brakes were not working though he drove past at least one runaway ramp.

When I saw this news story on Instagram, I was surprised by the excessive sentence that would condemn him to live the rest of his life in prison. I read the following caption of his case and thought that there must have been more to the story. I have come to know that you cannot always believe what you read on social media because of biased opinions.

Aware of false information on social media platforms, I researched his case because I wanted to know the truth. I was baffled as I read the articles about this young man being sentenced to 110 years in prison for an accident. The truck had malfunctions that were out of his control. I could not understand how this was subject to such a high sentence when criminals of more heinous crimes had shorter sentences.

I understand this accident took the lives of four innocent people, and I have complete sympathy for the pain their families are feeling. It was a tragic event that occurred under no malicious account or pretense to harm innocent civilians. But I do believe Aguilera-Mederos should hold some responsibility for what happened even if it was an accident. It was his diesel truck that malfunctioned making it automatically his responsibility and the families of the victims should receive some sort of justice for this tragic event.

Aguilera-Mederos’ prison sentence spread like wildfire on social media, and everyone was giving their opinions on whether it was justified or not. People were arguing on news outlets’ Facebook posts; tweets were being exchanged back and forth.

A petition began circulating on social media and called for a reduction of Aguilera-Mederos’ lengthy prison sentence, which garnered more than five million signatures, including reality TV star turned law student Kim Kardashian.

Truck drivers even announced that they would boycott Colorado over this heinous sentencing.

In December 2021, Colorado Governor Jared Polis called the crash “a tragic but unintentional act” and said there was “an urgency to remedy this unjust sentence and restore confidence in the uniformity and fairness of our criminal justice system” in a letter to Aguilera-Mederos.

As governor, Polis has constitutional power to grant pardons, clemency, and commutations, and on December 30, he commuted Aguilera-Mederos’ sentence from 110 years to 10 years. Aguilera-Mederos will be eligible to apply for parole in five years.

I could not believe the power of the people and the strength of our voices. We, the people, do have a power in making a change within our society and the lives of others, and that is an amazing thing to see happen.

I never really thought petitions could make a significant difference, but after witnessing this, I see that anything is truly possible. As a society, we can make changes that are unimaginable. It takes all of us being courageous and gathering together to stand firm in what we believe in. It is astonishing to imagine that strangers can be the difference between a life in prison and a future back into society.

Alexis Zuniga (she/her/hers)

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