What Happened with the Colorado Trucking Boycott?

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The Colorado Trucking Boycott occurred during the last weeks of December 2021 in response to the sentencing of truck driver Rogel Aguilera-Mederos to 110-years in prison. He had been found guilty on 27 charges including four negligent homicide charges, and multiple first-degree assault and first-degree attempted assault charges stemming from an April 25, 2019 collision on I-70 west of Denver.

Why Was Rogel Aguilera-Mederos Sentenced to 110 Years in Prison?

Rogel Aguilera-Mederos, a Cuban immigrant and rookie truck driver was traveling eastbound on I-70 near Lakewood, Colorado on April 25, 2019. It was his first time traveling through Colorado on I-70, a stretch of interstate with steep mountain grades that require proper training and experience to navigate safely in a commercial vehicle. Aguilera-Mederos, only 23 years old at the time, was in over his head.

He made multiple mistakes as he came down the mountain, taking his truck out of gear, and burning his brakes out. For reasons unknown, he bypassed the lone escape ramp available to him. As his truck, fully loaded with lumber, hurtled down the highway he encountered a traffic backup caused by an earlier collision. He attempted to take the shoulder to bypass the stopped cars until he came upon another big truck parked on the shoulder. He swerved back onto the highway and into a crash.

In the fiery aftermath, four individuals were killed and several others were injured. He went to trial on September 28, 2021, and on October 25, 2021, a jury found him guilty on 27 charges.

Joe Shlabotnik - CC BY 2.0

Social Media Backlash Turns Into A Trucker Boycott of Colorado

The severity of the sentence imposed upon Aguilera-Mederos caused an immediate backlash in the Latino and trucking communities. The argument was made by millions of individuals that the punishment was excessive in relation to the crime. One case, in particular, stood out in contrast to Aguilera-Mederos; that of Ethan Couch, a teenager driving under the influence of alcohol who killed four people. Rather than cooperate with authorities as Aguilera-Mederos had, Couch fled the country.

When he returned he was sentenced to 10 years of probation. The disparity between the sentences was a significant argument used by those who supported a fairer sentence for Aguilera-Mederos.

It is interesting to note that even the judge in the Aguilera-Mederos case was opposed to the 110-year sentence, however, his hands were tied by Colorado’s mandatory sentencing guidelines. Some have also argued that the prosecuting attorney knowingly arranged the charges to game the system of the mandatory guidelines in an effort to push Aguilera-Mederos into a plea deal. 

To many truck drivers, this sentencing came across as unwarranted and outlandish in relation to the crime. Many expressed their fears on social media about the sentencing guidelines and the seemingly inapplicable charges employed by a Colorado district attorney.

They asked questions such as, “What happens if my brakes fail and I do everything right, and I still crash and hurt someone? Will I be sentenced to 110 years also?” The sentencing, for many drivers, made Colorado seem threatening, a danger to not only their livelihood but their freedom as well. With these concerns in mind and as a show of solidarity for a member of the trucking community, thousands of drivers came forward on TikTok, Facebook, and Twitter, to express their indignation at the sentencing and by the middle of December 2021, a full-fledged boycott of the state of Colorado was underway.

Images emerged of stopped trucks, lining the shoulders of highways at the border of the state, refusing to enter. Meanwhile, a petition had been started demanding that the governor of Colorado grant Aguilera-Mederos clemency. Roughly 5 million signatures were collected in the petition.

Mugshot photo of Rogel Aguilera-Mederos. Lakewood Colorado Police Department/Facebook.

Aguilera-Mederos is Granted Clemency

CBS Denver

As December came to a close, the governor of Colorado under the strain of mounting public outcry and pressure, granted Aguilera-Mederos the clemency the public had been demanding. The sentence was reduced to 10 years which brought the punishment in line with other crimes of a similar nature.

Meanwhile, the prosecuting attorney, who elected to charge Aguilera-Mederos for the incident, neglected to pursue any charges against the company Aguilera-Mederos worked for, Castellano 03 Trucking LLC. They had a recent track record of flagrantly disregarding federal safety regulations with 30 violations during the two years leading up to the incident and among those violations was a habit of employing drivers who were unable to understand road signs written in English.

The day after the crash, the owner of Castellano 03 Trucking LLC, dissolved the company and registered a new company, Volt Trucking according to a 9NEWS investigative report. This new company is already racking up a lengthy record of trucker safety violations with their brakes and brake lines.

Did the Boycotts Work?

The question of whether or not the boycotts work remains unanswered. On the one hand, the implied economic impact upon a state is a severe threat, especially during a period when COVID-related shortages continue to impact supply chains. On the other hand, trucking is a highly competitive industry, and for every truck driver or trucking company who decides to participate in a boycott, there are many more who will ignore cries for such a measure and carry on with business as usual in the targeted state.

In the end, depending on the situation, the threat may be enough to sway public officials. However, many officials may also reason that due to the willingness of companies to continue business despite the boycott that they have nothing to worry about and the boycott is nothing more than a toothless threat. However, in the era of social media, truck drivers are able to organize their efforts at a level never before seen, and this in theory, should at least give pause to any policy decisions that public officials wish to enact.

As the world grows ever more connected, the impact of strikes and boycotts in the trucking industry may eventually have a greater impact, although it’s anyone's guess as to the extent of it.

Can Incidents such as the Incident, Sentencing, and Boycott Impact a Driver’s Mental Health?

The horrific scenes of a crash such as the one experienced by Aguilera-Mederos is significant trauma, both to the driver as well as any witnesses to the incident and this may extend to those who repeatedly view such imagery in the media. While many individuals eventually experience a healthy recovery from the acute stress syndrome induced by this type of incident; a small percentage of individuals will go on to develop the signs and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

Studies have also demonstrated that truck drivers are at a higher risk of depression. PTSD and depression combined can be crippling to a driver’s life and career.

If you are experiencing symptoms of either condition, help is available. The COVID-19 Pandemic has changed how the mental health system provides care and new options are available for truckers such as telehealth, articles, and downloadable worksheets that drivers can use no matter what their schedule is or where they are.

And remember, as the Colorado Boycott shows, you may feel like you’re alone out there on the road, but there is a community of fellow drivers ready to stand up and fight for you and back you up. In fact, as it relates to mental health, if you’re feeling lonely and just want to visit and shoot the breeze with someone, look no further than the next truck stop lounge or restaurant on your route. The community atmosphere of the driving profession is one of the trucking industry’s greatest strengths.

If you are depressed, or suffering from the signs and symptoms of PTSD, and are in need of immediate help, call 1-800-273-8255 or visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

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