Driver charged with murder says state is at fault

The man facing murder charges for the April 2009 Angeles Crest Highway runaway truck crash that killed two people claims he is being singled out for prosecution by public agencies hoping to limit their potential civil liability for the crash.

Marcos Costa, 45, faces life in prison and has remained behind bars in lieu of $600,000 bail since June 2009, when a grand jury indicted him on two counts of murder and other charges following the April 1, 2009, crash where the steep mountain pass ends at Foothill Boulevard in La Cañada Flintridge.

Angel Posca and his 12-year-old daughter, Angelina, were killed in the collision. Several others were injured.

Costa's court-appointed private investigator on Friday provided a draft copy of a motion to dismiss the murder and manslaughter charges, alleging the truck driver "was singled out for the crime of murder and/or voluntary manslaughter to excuse State of California and it's [sic] Department of Transportation from millions of dollars in civil suits filed against them."

The draft motion also alleges Costa, a native of Brazil who speaks limited English and relies on a Portuguese translator during court proceedings, "has been singled out because he is Hispanic and is not a citizen of California and the United States of America."

Yanette Posca, whose husband and daughter were killed in the April 1 crash, and other surviving family members have filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against California, the state Department of Transportation, Los Angeles County and the city of La Cañada Flintridge, as well as Costa, the trucking company that employed him and global satellite positioning system device makers Garmin International.

Posca, who has previously referred questions about the lawsuit to Orange County attorney Christopher Aiken, could not be reached. Aiken did not return calls requesting comment.

Costa on Friday appeared at a pretrial hearing in a Los Angeles County Superior Courtroom in Pasadena to begin the lengthy process of transferring case documents to the Men's Central Jail and to Edward Murphy, a stand-by attorney appointed by Judge Lisa Lench to take over the defense at trial if Costa changes his mind about defending himself.

The case documents include privileged communication between Costa and his former attorney, Steve Meister, who on Nov. 4 asked Lench to remove him from the case after his client refused to accept a plea deal that would have dropped the murder charges in exchange for vehicular manslaughter convictions.

Los Angeles County Deputy Dist. Atty. Carolina Lugo must also provide Costa with copies of more than 1,000 pages of police reports and witness accounts, she said.

Lench set a Nov. 30 hearing to complete the document transfer. The trial is expected to start as early as mid-January.

UCLA School of Law professor Stephen C. Yeazell said it was unlikely that a murder or vehicular manslaughter conviction would automatically eliminate the wrongful-death claims against the government agencies in civil court.

Even if Costa was convicted on all counts, "that would not eliminate the possibility of the state being civilly liable for negligent design or maintenance of the roadway," Yeazell said in an e-mail.

However, he added, government attorneys could also argue in civil court that the party responsible for the two deaths had already been found guilty and is sitting in jail, should they win the criminal case.

A Caltrans spokesman declined to comment.

Attorney Scott Grossberg, who is representing the city of La Cañada in the wrongful-death suit, said earlier this month that the city hopes to wait for a criminal verdict before the civil case is heard.

"I believe the primary focus of the attack is not the city," Grossberg said. "My opinion is that the criminal trial should play out first, then everyone has clarity. If [Costa] is found criminally culpable, then that right there is an important comment to who's at fault."

Costa's legal strategy appears to be rooted in the advice from a fellow inmate, James Brammer — a San Fernando Valley man defending himself against two charges of robbery and one of assault with a deadly weapon.

In a phone call from jail, Costa referred inquiries about his legal plan to Brammer, and several of Costa's documents contain signatures by both men.

"I told [Costa] the only way to save him was if he represented himself and let me help him," said Brammer, who claims paralegal experience. "You can sue [government agencies] for negligence, but not because someone else committed a criminal offense, and because [Costa] is not a citizen they've selected Marcos out of all these people to blame."

Brammer added: "The guy's a saint. [Costa] was a pastor for 22 years," adding that Costa became a professional driver after his church could no longer support him.

During his phone call, Costa's focus on Brammer's legal strategy was resolute.

"Jim Brammer is like my lawyer. Everything Jim says is true," Costa said.

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