In 2009, a tragic big rig crash left one child and her father dead, others seriously injured and a bookstore completely demolished when the trailer lost its brake power and careened into the store front. The crash took hundreds of man hours to reconstruct and investigate and concluded with murder charges against the Brazilian-born driver who came to this country to realize a better life.
Shortly after the accident took place, the driver was originally charged with voluntarily manslaughter in the death of the child and her father. Immediately preceding the accident, an off-duty firefighter flagged down the big rig and told the driver that his brakes were smoking and he would be best to pull over and address the problem. The driver ignored the warnings and continued to drive the truck. The truck advanced down a hill towards a heavily populated commercial area.
The crux of the case rests on whether it was reasonable for the driver to continue operating the truck despite the clear warnings from the off-duty firefighter. A voluntary manslaughter charge typically requires the State to prove that the defendant acted willful ignorance of a significant risk of grievous bodily harm or death to others. Whether this risk was present at the time the driver chose to operate the vehicle will be a question for the jury to decide.
Interestingly, this is not the first time that a truck has lost its brake control on this particular stretch of Angeles Crest Highway. Many other trucks have lost brake power despite clear warnings to drivers as to the strong likelihood that the steep downgrade could wreak havoc on large big rig brakes. The victims’ family has filed a civil lawsuit against the city for its alleged negligence in maintaining the Angeles Crest Highway. Other defendants named in that suit include the California Department of Transportation, Los Angeles County, the trucking company Costa worked for and Garmin International, maker of the GPS system that suggested the ACH route the truckers took.
Testimony began yesterday in the trial against the driver. An employee of the coffee shop where the victims were killed testified that she can recount with virtual certainty the horror on the man’s face before his 18-wheeler collided with the store front. “I saw the horror on his face. His eyes were bulging out of his head….I felt like he was looking right into my eyes and I into his. I thought we both thought we were going to die right at that moment.”
Pending trial, friends and family report that the defendant spends his days in Boston, Massachusetts volunteering with the needy and counseling troubled teens.