Murder charges dropped in crash

PASADENA — A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge Friday dismissed two murder charges filed against the driver of a big rig that barreled through the Foothill Boulevard intersection of Angeles Crest Highway on April 1, killing a 12-year-old and her father.

The charges against 44-year-old Marcos Barbosa Costa, who also holds a Brazilian passport, were dismissed in a Pasadena courtroom after Superior Court Judge Lisa B. Lench said the circumstances of the crash did not rise to the level of murder.

“This case is a lot of things, and it’s primarily a horrible tragedy,” she said.

Costa still faces two counts of vehicular manslaughter and three felony counts of reckless driving for the accident, which also injured several drivers.

Los Angeles County Deputy Dist. Atty. Carolina Lugo had argued for the murder charges, citing testimony from a man who said he flagged down Costa, whose brakes were allegedly billowing smoke, as he drove down Angeles Crest Highway before the accident.

“The defendant had the opportunity to appreciate the dangers ahead,” Lugo argued.

Costa’s attorney, Steve Meister, said the warnings were not about danger toward the end of the highway, but primarily about the height restrictions for a tunnel on Angeles Forest Highway.

He also pointed out that Costa didn’t have a record of reckless driving to warrant the murder charges.

In her ruling, Lench noted that “the warnings were not very strong that Costa would have understood the warning would result in death.”

After the hearing, Meister called the dropped murder charges an important development for his client’s defense.

“This case was a tragic accident, not a murder,” he said. “But is it a crime? And if so, what crime? The answer today was ‘not murder.’”

Lugo declined to comment.

A hearing is scheduled for Oct. 20, during which county district attorneys are expected to discuss whether to appeal Lench’s ruling. Costa remains in custody on $600,000 bail.

The April 1 crash prompted a state law banning commercial trucks with three or more axles, or that weigh 9,000 pounds or more, from traversing the steep and windy Angeles Crest Highway.

Local officials had long sought the ban, which took effect in early August, as a way to clamp down on a series of crashes at the Foothill Boulevard intersection. Truck drivers had been using the highway to connect with the Foothill (210) Freeway.

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