Late in the afternoon on April 25, 2019, a semi-truck carrying a heavy load of timber lost its brakes and crashed at high speed into a large stalled group of traffic on the I-70 in Colorado. The impact and ensuing fires led to four deaths and nearly a dozen injuries. The incident drew nationwide attention in the immediate aftermath and again when the driver of the truck, Rogel Aguilera-Mederos, received an initial 110-year prison sentence after a conviction on vehicular manslaughter charges.
Depositions and court records reveal that the circumstances for this tragedy were created long before Aguilera-Mederos overheated and destroyed his truck's brakes in the mountainous terrain crossed by I-70. The trucking company that employed him, Castellano 03, was a solo operation run by one woman out of her own house. The operator had no experience in the trucking industry, and in just two years before the crash, the company had already accumulated 30 safety violations on its driving record report.
At the time of the crash, Aguilera-Mederos was the only driver working for Castellano 03. During a deposition, the owner of Castellano 03 admitted that she had not carried out any background checks during the hiring process. The driver's application, which omitted an employer that fired him for poor driving skills, received hardly any scrutiny at all. Training consisted of an approximately 30-mile ride-along journey before Aguilera-Mederos was cleared to begin working. The deadly crash occurred only two weeks later.
Unfamiliar with the mountain interstate routes in Colorado and unaware of proper techniques for protecting brakes during steep downhill sections, Aguilera-Mederos quickly lost stopping power. The crash finally occurred after he ignored an open runaway truck lane and ultimately struck the traffic stopped on the interstate.
The long list of failures that led to this tragic accident is stunning in its scope. With little oversight for the actual formation and operation of small transport operations, Castellano 03 operated unsafely for years by skipping background checks and choosing drivers with little regard for skill. A background report and a reference check could have helped the company uncover Aguilera-Mederos' previous firing.
Even a simple investment in more training and time on the road could have equipped the driver with the knowledge necessary to prevent the accident. Aguilera-Mederos had only completed the course necessary for obtaining commercial driver's licenses approximately a year prior to the accident — far too little time to adequately learn how to drive heavy loads in the most challenging conditions.
The importance of a thorough, well-planned hiring process is hard to overstate when considering the context of such a tragic accident. While this case led to one of the most extreme possible outcomes, it is an important reminder that the due diligence conducted by employers isn't about putting up unnecessary barriers. An accurate background check and even driving record searches are an essential part of operating safely and protecting not only the company and its employees but the public at large, too.
About Michael Klazema The author
Michael Klazema is the lead author and editor for Dallas-based backgroundchecks.com with a focus on human resource and employment screening developments