Runaway big rig driver gets prison in deadly crash

Truck driver Marcos Costa, middle, is taken into custody after his sentencing in court to seven years and four months in state prison, Thursday, Sept. 8, 2011, in Pasadena, Calif. Costa was behind the wheel of a double-decker hauler that lost its brakes on a mountain highway, descended into a Los Angeles foothill suburb in April 2009. The rig smashed into cross-traffic and a building, killing two people. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

September 8, 2011 4:16:26 PM PDT
A trucker convicted of involuntary manslaughter in a runaway big-rig crash that took the lives of a man and his daughter was sentenced Thursday to seven years and four months in state prison.

A Los Angeles Superior Court judge made the final ruling for Marcos Costa, 46, after hearing lengthy statements from friends and relatives of the victims George and Angelina Posca.

"No matter how much we ache for just one more day, they are never coming back," family friend Kristen Eddy told Judge Darrell Mavis. "I am paralyzed by the thought that the front end of his big rig and Mr. Costa's face are the last things my loved ones ever saw."

Costa, a Brazilian national who had been living in Everett, Mass., was convicted in July by a jury that rejected charges of second-degree murder.

He was driving a 25-ton, double-decker car hauler through the San Gabriel Mountains northeast of Los Angeles when his brakes failed on April 1, 2009. The truck barreled down the Angeles Crest Highway and smashed through traffic in the foothill town of La Canada Flintridge, killing the Poscas and plowing into some shops.

Angelina, 12, and her father, Angel George Posca, 58, of Palmdale, died after their car was struck. Four other cars were hit before the truck plowed into a bookstore and nail salon.

Three other people were injured.

At trial, authorities blamed the crash on Costa's decision to use a narrow, winding mountain road instead of a freeway to get from the desert to metropolitan Los Angeles.

Prosecutors said Costa ignored a warning by an off-duty firefighter that Angeles Crest Highway was too dangerous for the big-rig and he should turn around. He continued to make the 1 1/2-mile descent even though his brakes began to smoke. Prosecutors say Costa poured water on them instead of waiting for them to cool.

"There were just so many opportunities to stop," deputy district attorney Carolina Lugo said after the sentencing.

A post-crash inspection revealed that five of the 10 truck brakes either weren't working or not adjusted correctly. The five working brakes showed signs of overheating or cracking on the pads, according to court documents.

With 20 months already served ahead of his trial and extra credit for good behavior, prosecutors said Costa could be released in about two years. He would likely serve his sentence in a low-security prison.

As he listened to victim statements, the bald-headed Costa hunched forward as his Portuguese translator murmured in his ear. At one point, he removed his heavy-framed glasses and rubbed his eyes as though he were crying.

The judge allowed him to speak directly to the packed courtroom and he turned around to direct his comments at the two rows of family in attendance. He said he was a pastor who had taken up driving a big rig to supplement his income and had dedicated his life to God and to helping people.

"For me this is a nightmare and I didn't wake up yet," he said. "I know each you hate me today but I ask for forgiveness."

Costa testified during the trial that after losing the brakes: "I was desperate. I was in a panic. I didn't know what to do."

Costa's lawyer argued he was following directions on his GPS to get through the mountains and saw no warning signs. The attorney also blamed the lack of a safety ramp for runaway trucks for the accident.

After the accident, La Canada Flintridge officials accused the California Department of Transportation of failing to respond to safety concerns about trucks on the road and previous accidents at that intersection.

Caltrans eventually banned five-axle trucks from a section of the highway.

"The bottom line is you have a situation where no one really wins. Two families are devastated here," said George Poca's brother-in-law Armando La Fontaine. "The judge did an adequate job, I wouldn't want to be in his situation."

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