Rogel Aguilera-Mederos a victim of a broken system
Rogel Aguilera-Mederos is a fellow trucker who is paying the price for so much of what is wrong in the industry that I personally love. I feel blessed to be a part of the trucking industry. It’s an industry full of hard-working men and women from all walks of life and one of the most diverse industries in America.
But the sad truth is trucking is also an industry where you can wake up one morning and go to work and do everything you know how to do correctly and still end up in prison.
That’s exactly what happened to Rogel. Aside from any time in prison, his life will never be the same after such a tragedy.
On Dec. 13, Aguilera-Mederos was sentenced to 110 years in prison, to be served consecutively, for driving a tractor-trailer into a 28-vehicle pileup on I-70 on April 25, 2019.
His truck was going faster than 80 mph when it crashed around 4:50 p.m. near Denver West Parkway in Lakewood, Colo. Four men were killed in the crash. Six others were wounded.
We must also talk about all the victims and their families whose lives will never be the same – just like Rogel. Every one of these people got up that morning just to go to work, or to a store, or wherever they had to be. Tragically, they will never be with their loved ones again. I can’t imagine what that is like for anyone who has been touched by a tragedy like this. Our thoughts and prayers must go out to those they left behind.
But let’s stop and take a deep breath and just put this perspective of what really caused this accident – something nobody wants to or likes to talk about.
Everybody involved are victims of circumstances that we, as truckers and OOIDA, have been pointing out for years. This is the fault of anti-trucker associations, Congress, carrier retention practices, substandard training, regulation enforcement, lack of safe parking, more invasive unproven drug testing and medical requirements and greed.
For far too long we have regulated from behind because the monetary interest driving transportation has continued to push for cheap labor. Those focused on profits only spout off about shortages, the need for unproven technology, increased insurance, speed limiters, ELDs, and ways to get younger and even less experienced folks behind the wheel. None of the things have or will make trucking safer
Safety starts with a well-trained, well-rested, well-compensated driver behind the wheel that is treated like a professional – instead of just a replaceable commodity.
I think about the beginning of my career, and I am thankful for so many things. Being raised on a farm, I learned the skills necessary to operate machinery safely. I was taught so many things about trucking by my father and friends before I ever got behind the wheel. When I served proudly and drove a truck in the United States Army, I was trained every single day so, God forbid, if you have to go to war you are ready for every scenario that comes at you.
But, the sad thing is even with all that, I was far from being completely trained and knowledgeable about what my career path threw at me.
On my 21st birthday I started diving for a large carrier and attended their training, which was two weeks long, and was then turned loose. I am not too proud to say I ended up in some tense situations a few times. Not because I was negligent or reckless. I just didn’t know what I didn’t know. To me, this was a huge part of what happened that dreadful day in 2019 to Rogel.
We need real investment in training – not just pass a test and be turned loose. We need realistic training hours in all types of weather and driving terrain and conditions. The training must be done by experienced veterans of the road, awake and alert, sitting beside the trainee.
In Missouri, it takes 1,000 hours of training to be a barber. I surely think a trucker would need that much or more.
Rogel is a Cuban-American from Texas. If he was even trained in Texas, there are no mountains there like the one in Colorado he was on. Do we even know if he realized what a runaway ramp was? Do we know if he had the ability to completely read and understand the road signs in English? If I was to guess from my experience the answer to a lot of this would be no. Did his carrier know his ability or even care? I would guess again they didn’t care. They just wanted to get the load delivered because they knew if something happened the driver would be left to take the fall.
We can continue to pass feel-good rules and push technologies that would have done nothing to have stopped this terrible accident. Or we can take the bull by the horns and give the driver the knowledge and training that he or she wants and needs to make all our lives safer on the highways in America.
I can’t imagine how terrible this is for all involved. But we all know this young man didn’t get up that morning with any intention to hurt anyone. Yet he was left to take all the punishment for a completely broken system. LL