Truck driver's trial begins

A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge on Monday took the unusual step of allowing attorneys to give brief opening statements to prospective jurors in the murder trial for the runaway-truck crash that killed two people in 2009 on Angeles Crest Highway.

Attorneys typically don't present arguments in court until after a jury is chosen, but Superior Court Judge Darrell Mavis told the group of 79 prospective jurors assembled in his Pasadena courtroom on Monday that brief pre-opening statements would be allowed to quickly orientate them to the case and root out any potential conflicts or hardships.

Mavis, who said he expects the trial to last until Aug. 1, told jurors to think of the statements as they would a movie trailer — “a glimpse of what this case is about.”

Marcos Costa, 46, faces a possible life sentence on two counts of murder and additional charges of vehicular manslaughter and reckless driving.

Palmdale resident Angel Posca and his 12-year-old daughter Angelina were killed on April 1, 2009, after Costa lost the use of the brakes on his big rig while descending Angeles Crest Highway into La Cañada Flintridge, striking several cars and smashing into a storefront on Foothill Boulevard.

Prior to potential jurors entering the courtroom, county Deputy Dist. Atty. Carolina Lugo objected to the pre-opening statements, saying a supervisor gave her “a direct order” not to do so.

Mavis denied Lugo's request, pointing out that attorneys on both sides had already agreed last week to give statements.

“There are good reasons to do it, and good reasons to do it early on so we can ferret out jurors who have hardship issues,” Mavis said.

In their statements, attorneys on both sides acknowledged that Costa had employed an assistant driver, Jose Sores, who was initially driving the truck as it headed into the mountains.

Defense attorney Edward Murphy emphasized Costa's background as a minister, saying he was new to the trucking industry, unfamiliar with Southern California roadways and that his assistant driver had been following a route prescribed by a GPS device prior to the crash.

“This was an accident, and I stress the word accident,” Murphy said.

Lugo said Costa and his driver proceeded from Pear Blossom Highway to Angeles Forest Highway despite a sign prohibiting trucks, and spoke of a firefighter who flagged the truck down before its descent to warn Costa and Sores that its brakes were smoking.

“You will hear that the defendant continued to go on that highway, and that the highway went into the city of La Cañada Flintridge … [and] the defendant's truck didn't have any brakes, accelerated speed, hit [Posca's] car and killed that 12-year-old girl and her father,” Lugo said.

Before seeking to mount his own case, Costa parted ways with another defense attorney after refusing a plea deal to drop the murder charges in exchange for a 16-year prison sentence for the lesser charges.

Costa posted bail in February, a short time after accepting Murphy as his court-appointed attorney.

A month after his release, Costa filed a civil suit against local, county and state agencies, claiming that improper maintenance of Angeles Crest Highway was to blame for the fatal collision. He is working as his own attorney for the civil suit.

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