Sus­pect in fiery Colorado pileup ap­pears in court

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Classified - As­so­ci­ated Press

A speed­ing semi­trailer whose driver ap­peared to one wit­ness to be “wide eyed” and “ter­ri­fied” passed a truck ramp be­fore plow­ing into other ve­hi­cles on a crowded high­way near Den­ver, killing four peo­ple and in­jur­ing at least six oth­ers, ac­cord­ing to court doc­u­ments re­leased Satur­day.

The truck driver, 23year-old Ro­gel Lazaro Aguil­era-Mederos, of Hous­ton, made his first court ap­pear­ance Satur­day after be­ing ar­rested on sus­pi­cion of ve­hic­u­lar homi­cide.

State Dis­trict Judge Chris Zenisek set $400,000 bond. Aguil­er­aMederos, who suf­fered mi­nor in­juries in the crash, didn’t speak dur­ing the hear­ing. He was rep­re­sented by Den­ver at­tor­ney Robert Corry, who couldn’t be reached for comment after­ward.

Deputy Dis­trict At­tor­ney Kate Knowles had rec­om­mended a $500,000 bond, cit­ing Aguil­era-Mederos’ sta­tus as a green card holder from Cuba with no ties to Colorado and the se­ri­ous­ness of the wreck.

His next court hear­ing is set for May 3, when pros­e­cu­tors are ex­pected to file charges against Aguil­er­aMederos, who re­mains in the Jef­fer­son County jail.

The fiery crash hap­pened Thurs­day on In­ter­state 70 where the high­way de­scends from the Rocky Moun­tains and in­volved 28 ve­hi­cles.

Ac­cord­ing to the ar­rest af­fi­davit in the case, Aguil­era-Mederos told in­ves­ti­ga­tors that his brakes had failed on his truck that was haul­ing lum­ber and he no­ticed his truck was trav­el­ing 85 mph be­fore the crash.

How­ever, other mo­torists told po­lice that the truck seemed to be trav­el­ing faster, with one wit­ness es­ti­mat­ing as much as 100 mph.

In ad­di­tion, two wit­nesses in an­other truck said they saw fluid com­ing from the rear of the trailer on the truck driven by Aguil­era-Mederos.

Ac­cord­ing to the af­fi­davit, Aguil­era-Mederos’ truck passed a sign ad­vis­ing driv­ers of a run­away ramp, which en­ables ve­hi­cles that are hav­ing brak­ing prob­lems to safely stop, 2,000 feet ahead and had a “free and un­ob­structed path” onto the ramp but in­stead swerved away from the ramp, which is lo­cated off the side of the high­way.

A speed limit sign on that stretch of road lim­ited com­mer­cial ve­hi­cles to 45 mph.

Aguil­era-Mederos told po­lice that he tried to ac­ti­vate emer­gency brakes with­out suc­cess and that just be­fore his truck hit other stopped ve­hi­cles he thought he was go­ing to die so he “closed his eyes,” the af­fi­davit says.

One driver whose ve­hi­cle was passed by the speed­ing truck said he saw that “the driver of the semi was ‘wide eyed' with a ter­ri­fied look on his face.”

After the col­li­sion, he crawled from the truck as fire be­gan to en­gulf the crash scene, trig­ger­ing ex­plo­sions and a fire so in­tense that it melted the road­way and metal off cars.

The in­ter­state was closed for nearly 24 hours be­fore com­pletely re­open­ing Fri­day night.

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