Manslaughter Charges Filed in Truck Crash

A trucker accused of ignorning weight limit signs on a mountain road before a deadly crash in La Canada Flintridge was charged Friday with two felony counts of vehicular manslaughter.

Marcos Costa, 43, was scheduled to be arraigned Friday afternoon in Pasadena Superior Court.

Costa, of Maine, was driving a car-transport truck carrying three vehicles on Angeles Crest Highway about 5:50 p.m. Wednesday when the brakes failed, said Capt. Mike Brown of the Los Angeles County Fire Department. He slammed into red car, pushing it about 200 yards down the roadway and into the intersection of Foothill Boulevard, where several more cars were struck, officials said.

Angel Jorge Posca, 58, and his 12-year-old daughter, Angelina Posca, both of Palmdale, were in the red car and died at the scene, said Lt. Joe Bale of the coroner's office.

The truck also struck four other vehicles and plowed into the Flintridge Bookstore and Coffeehouse. Twelve people were injured, three of them critically. No one inside the bookstore was hurt, and the truck driver suffered only minor injuries.

Investigators believe the truck's brakes malfunctioned, but Costa was arrested on suspicion of vehicular manslaughter and felony reckless driving, and was being held in lieu of $200,000 bail, said Lt. Greg Sisneros of the Los Angeles County Sheriff Department's Crescenta Valley Station.

Authorities allege Costa ignored vehicle-weight limitation signs on the highway.

"After making several deliveries, the suspect, of Massachusetts, drove his vehicle-transport semi-truck -- contrary to posted vehicle limitation signs -- via the Angeles Forest Highway from the Antelope Valley into the Crescenta Valley via Angeles Crest Highway," Sisneros said.

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"The resulting drive along a very winding and descending grade of road, resulted in brake failure of the suspect's semi-truck. The suspect lost control of his truck and collided into several other vehicles along Angeles Crest Highway, including the one the victims were in," Sisneros said. 

City, county and state officials said they were angry at Caltrans for not responding to city complaints that the intersection is notorious for truck accidents.

"Yesterday's horrific accident did not have to happen," La Canada Flintridge Mayor Laura Olhasso said. "It should not have happened. Caltrans was put on notice by the city last September that Caltrans had to act to avoid exactly the kind of devastating truck runaway that yesterday killed a 12-year-old child and her father and sent six others to the hospital."

On Sept. 5, a truck carrying 70,000 pounds of onions plowed through the same intersection and into the parking lot of the Hill Street Cafe, demolishing seven vehicles but causing only one minor injury. That crash prompted the city to ask Caltrans to improve safety in the area. City officials claim Caltrans responded only by saying they needed more time to study the issue.

But Caltrans district director Doug Failing rejected allegations that the agency has been dragging its feet or ignoring the city's pleas for help.

"Certainly there has been action from Caltrans," Failing said. "There's been correspondence back and forth and there's been different ideas on how we can begin to solve the problems. Obviously because (Wednesday's) accident happened, we'd all be much better off if things would have happened quicker, but they didn't. That's the reality of where we're at here today, and we need to continue to look to move things faster, as we always try and do."

Failing said the agency has been working to add more signs warning truck drivers of the dangers and restrictions on the route and trying to find a spot for a truck brake-inspection area ahead of the downgrade leading to the accident site. He said Caltrans has also been trying to identify an area for a runaway-truck lane, but he said such a lane requires a lot of space and the city doesn't want it installed along the straightaway that leads to Foothill Boulevard.

"And they had asked us to look at locations further up before we get into the city limits," Failing said. "So we've been doing that. ... The problem we have is the largest site we found is about 350-400 foot in length. For a truck escape route on those kinds of downgrades, it needs closer to 4,000 feet if a truck is going 60 miles an hour, and if the truck is going as slow as 30 miles an hour, I'd need a thousand feet. So the only place we have those kinds of distances available are in the straightaway."

Failing said Caltrans would be willing to consider banning truck traffic along the route, but he said that would require discussions with the city and Los Angeles County, which Failing noted maintains the route that feeds most trucks onto the highway.

But Olhasso demanded more immediate action.

"Closing Angeles Crest Highway doesn't require a complicated or lengthy bureaucratic process," she said. "Caltrans can, it has the power to and should direct the Highway Patrol to close Angeles Crest Highway to big rigs before the sun goes down today."

County Supervisor Mike Antonovich echoed that call, saying, "It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that this type of vehicle does not belong on that highway."

He deflected assertions that the county could have acted long ago to ban trucks from Angeles Forest Highway, which delivers much of the truck traffic onto Angeles Crest Highway. Antonovich said there is a question about whether the county or federal government would have such authority.

"Right now, the culprit in this is the Angeles Crest Highway," he said.

Assemblyman Anthony Portantino, D-Pasadena, said he introduced legislation today that would ban trucks on the route. He said he hoped the issue would be fast-tracked to the governor's desk.

"Everyone knew that something could happen," he said. "No one likes to point fingers, no one likes to say someone should have done something. In this case, someone should have."

Failing said Angeles Crest Highway was safe, provided drivers took proper precautions.

"Thousands of trucks use it, and use it very safely," Failing said. "It's very much the responsibility of the vehicle operator -- particularly when you drive large vehicles -- to be in the appropriate control of your vehicle at all times."

But Failing vowed to make the issue a top priority. He said Caltrans will also consider contacting GPS service providers to make sure their maps, which are relied upon by out-of-state truckers, show that the route is not suggested for large truck traffic.

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