The big rig driver facing murder charges for the 2009 Angeles Crest Highway truck accident that killed a Palmdale man and his 12-year-old daughter asked a judge on Thursday to act as his own attorney during his upcoming trial.
Marcos Barbosa Costa, 45, was expected to decide during the pretrial hearing on Tuesday whether to accept a plea agreement that would have dropped the murder charges in exchange for pleading guilty to manslaughter and reckless driving.
But that all changed in Los Angeles County Superior Courtroom in Pasadena after his defense attorney entered a motion to withdraw from the case.
"I know my rights. I understand all the risks," said Costa, speaking through a Portuguese interpreter.
The request surprised the court, which had prepared for the plea agreement.
"I probably can't express to you enough how strongly I think this is a bad decision," said Superior Court Judge Judy Lench, who warned the high school graduate that he would face an experienced prosecutor and would not have special access to legal resources while in jail.
If convicted of murder, Lench warned as family members of those who died in the collision looked on, Costa could face life in prison.
Lench said she would appoint Costa a private investigator to work in his defense, as well as a stand-by attorney in case Costa changed his mind.
Costa was ordered to appear Nov. 19 for a pretrial conference, after which his trial is set to begin within 60 days.
On April 1, 2009, Costa's runaway commercial truck plowed through five vehicles at the busy intersection of Foothill Boulevard and Angeles Crest Highway in La Cañada Flintridge, killing Angel Posca and his daughter Angelina. A dozen others were injured before the truck crashed into the Flintridge Bookstore and Coffeehouse.
Costa, a native of Brazil, was initially charged with two counts of vehicular manslaughter and three counts of reckless driving, released on $200,000 bail and allowed to return home to Massachusetts.
On June 19, 2009, he was indicted for murder, re-arrested in court and continues to be held in lieu of $600,000 bail.
His defense attorney succeeded in persuading Lench to drop the murder charges, but on April 6, an appeals court reinstated them, finding that Costa understood the risk involved in descending the steep mountain pass from the Angeles National Forest into a busy commercial thoroughfare.
"After one-and-a-half years of very hard work, things are back to square one for [Costa], and I wish him well," said Costa's defense attorney, Steve Meister, who confirmed a plea agreement offer was on the table but said he could not disclose why he had asked to withdraw from the case. "I did persuade the district attorney to keep the offer on the table, and I appreciate her being so stand-up about this."
L.A. County Deputy District Atty. Carolina Lugo has declined to discuss details of the case.
Yanette Posca, who lost her daughter and husband in the crash, stayed throughout the hearing and was joined by a half-dozen friends and family members.
"My family and everyone involved with this have been through so much. There's so much grief that all of us are experiencing, and it never seems to go away," said Posca, the mother of six other children.