JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4) – Opening statements began Tuesday morning in the trial for the semi driver charged in the 2019 deadly crash on Interstate 70 near the Colorado Mills Mall. Rogel Aguilera-Mederos faces vehicular homicide charges in connection with the April 2019 crash that killed four people and damaged or destroyed 28 vehicles.

Rogel Aguilera-Medero (credit: CBS)

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Aguilera-Mederos has pleaded not guilty to a total of 41 charges.

The question for the jury, could this have been avoided?

In opening statements, the prosecution told the jury that the massive pileup was the result of bad decisions by Aguilera-Mederos, the driver of the truck that lost its brakes.

“Four lives in our community were lost because of what this case boils down to bad decisions,” Kayla Wildeman, for the prosecution, told the jury.

(credit: CBS)

Prosecutors said the driver’s brakes failed but he weaved and nearly ran people off the road, “And boom! Immediately there is an explosion. There is a large plume of black smoke. There are flames everywhere. The defendant’s load is thrown out about the highway igniting more fires flying into other cars. People are frantically trying to open doors and getting out and while people are going towards the fires to aid others the defendant runs away.”

There was no dispute the driver lost his brakes, but the bad decisions the prosecution claimed were on display in videos made before the crash. Prosecutors say the defendant even passed a runaway truck ramp and other places to pull off.

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The defense painted a picture of Aguilera-Mederos, things happening so quickly he didn’t know what to do. James Cogan argued his client was a victim of a mechanical brake failure.

“He was a passenger in a vehicle he could not control,” he said in his opening statement.

(credit: CBS)

Wildeman claimed Mederos ran from the scene. Darin Barton was one of the first prosecution witnesses. He had been panhandling when the crash occurred.

CBS4’s Rick Sallinger asked him, “Was the truck driver, Mr. Mederos, running away?”

“I don’t think so,” he answered.

Barton was hailed as a hero for helping those injured in the crash.

The final witness of day one was Gage Evans, the widow of Bill Bailey, one of the four who died in the crash. She described how her husband was flying a remote control plane that day, but never came home.

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At an earlier hearing, the judge granted permission for the defendant to reside in Texas while he awaited trial. He is free on $400,000 bond. The trial was delayed due to COVID-19 and a change of attorneys. The trial is expected to last weeks.

Rick Sallinger