A truck driver whose out-of-control big rig barreled down a famous California mountain road and smashed into traffic and buildings, killing a father and daughter, was sentenced to seven years and four months in state prison Thursday.
Marcos Costa, a Brazilian pastor who was living in Everett, Mass., and had started trucking to supplement his income, had faced up to nine years and four months after he was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in the deaths of Angel George Posca, 58, and his 12-year-old daughter Angelina Posca.
The two had just exited a freeway on April 1, 2009, and were at the bottom of the Angeles Crest Highway in the foothill community of La Canada Flintridge when Costa's truck crashed into them. Four other cars were hit before the truck plowed into a bookstore and nail salon.
The crash occurred after Costa and a companion said they followed GPS instructions to drive their 25-ton car hauler to Los Angeles. Instead of taking the typical truck route via the freeways skirting the rugged mountains between LA and California's desert interior, they started up the winding, narrow route through the San Gabriel Mountains. The road's graceful curves and stunning vistas make it a popular destination for the region's snow-seekers, drivers and motorcyclists.
Costa's attorney said he saw no signs barring truck traffic but prosecutors said Costa willfully ignored countless warnings that should have given him pause, including an off-duty firefighter flagging him down to say smoke was spewing from his wheels.
"It was miles and miles and miles of smoke billowing from his brakes telling him something was wrong," assistant district attorney Carolina Lugo said. "There were just so many opportunities to stop."
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Darrell Mavis sentenced Costa after hearing lengthy statements from friends and relatives of the victims.
"No matter how much we ache for just one more day, they are never coming back," family friend Kristen Eddy told 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 was also ordered to pay more than $100,000 to a victim restitution fund and to the city of La Canada Flintridge.
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 for extra money and had dedicated his life to God and to helping people.
"I never imagined I would take the life of anyone, I never wished for that," he said through an interpreter. "I know each of you hate me today, but I ask for forgiveness."
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 Angel George Posca's brother-in-law Armando La Fontaine. "The judge did an adequate job. I wouldn't want to be in his situation."