LA CANADA FLINTRIDGE, Calif. – An out-of-state trucker ignored warning signs and used a forbidden mountain route before his brakes burned out on a steep grade and he smashed into cars and a bookstore, killing two and injuring a dozen others, authorities said Thursday. It was the second rig to go out of control on the road in six months.
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Marcos Costa, 43, of Everett, Mass., drove the road "contrary to posted vehicle limitation signs," a Los Angeles County sheriff's statement said. He was treated for minor injuries and arrested late Wednesday for investigation of gross vehicular manslaughter and felony reckless driving. He remained jailed Thursday on $200,000 bail.
The truck, which was hauling cars, had come over the rugged San Gabriel Mountains on Angeles Forest Highway, a narrow, winding county road used as a shortcut by commuters from the high desert north of Los Angeles.
Angeles Forest rises to an elevation of more than 4,900 feet before it joins Angeles Crest Highway, and then descends steeply through La Canada Flintridge to shop-lined Foothill Boulevard in the Los Angeles suburb of about 21,000.
Angeles Crest Highway, a state road, has a twisting stretch followed by a couple of miles of steep straightaway that ends in a T-intersection at the boulevard.
Signs are posted on the Angeles Forest Highway section banning semi-tractor trailers, although they are permitted on the wider Angeles Crest Highway, sheriff's Sgt. John Caffrey said.
The driver had come over the mountains from the Palmdale area of the desert, which has the signs, he said.
The truck, which departed Georgia several days earlier with two drivers taking turns, could not stop on the final downgrade and hit five cars before plowing into the Flintridge Bookstore and Coffeehouse, where an employee was hit by a piece of wood and received minor injuries. The truck also damaged an adjoining wine store and nail salon.
The accident killed 12-year-old Angelina Posca and her father, Angel Jorge Posca, 58, of Palmdale. Their red Ford sedan was pushed through the intersection by the truck and crushed.
A dozen other people including the trucker, were hurt, three critically. One of those was upgraded, sheriff's officials said, but they did not know the status of the other two. Sgt. Mark Slater said the truck's other driver was not arrested.
In September, a runaway truck plowed through a parking lot in the same block, injuring one person.
That driver also came from out of state and was using a GPS unit that did not indicate the route was dangerous for big rigs, authorities said.
California Department of Transportation District Director Doug Failing said he did not know whether Costa also had been using a GPS system but said his agency was beginning to talk about the issue of getting GPS providers to indicate routes that are not advised for truckers.
He also responded to criticism from La Canada Flintridge Mayor Laura Olhasso, who accused the agency of stonewalling on city requests to ban trucks from parts of the highway and make safety upgrades.
Failing said Caltrans had ordered new signs to warn truckers of the steep grade but they had not yet arrived. Caltrans also was open to discussions about rerouting truck traffic in the area, and might even be willing to examine a ban on trucks, Failing said, although he called that an extreme measure.
"There are thousands of trucks that drive this route every day and they all happen to drive it very safely," Failing said of the highway.
"The road is safe if it's driven appropriately," he said.
An escape lane in the median of the lower portion of the road was built in the 1970s but is no longer maintained.
In the longer term, the agency also is looking into a city request to put in an escape lane for runaway trucks before they reach the straight downhill stretch where they pick up speed. However, Failing said the lane would need to be at least 1,000 feet long and there doesn't appear to be any space for it uphill of the straightaway.
However, Failing said two crashes in less than seven months does indicate a safety concern and he would make the road a top priority.
The mayor and other officials responded with demands for an immediate ban on big rigs on Angeles Crest.
"It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that this type of vehicle does not belong on that highway," county Supervisor Mike Antonovich told reporters. "The time for action was yesterday and we need that action immediately."
State Assemblyman Anthony Portantino said he and Sen. Carol Liu will try to force a ban with emergency legislation.