Brake Failure Leads to Manslaughter Conviction, Appeal


A 2011 ruling that placed a trucker in jail on manslaughter charges after a fatal crash is under review in California’s 2nd district. In 2009, driver Marcos Costa’s brakes failed, causing his truck to strike a car, killing a 58-year-old man and his 12-year-old daughter.

Prosecutors presented evidence which they said proved that Costa had been negligent in performing an adequate pre-trip safety check. The defense asserted that Costa had checked his brakes regularly and that the crash was due to mechanical failure. They also pointed to the fact that Costa is an ordained minister and had never been in any legal trouble before.

The charges were originally two counts of second-degree murder which would have sent him to jail for a minimum of 50 years, but two jurors refused to convict him on those charges. They instead convicted Costa of manslaughter, sending him to jail for seven years and four months.

The decision to convict must have been a tough one. On the one hand, there was no truck escape lane open even though the Angeles Crest Highway is notoriously steep. On the other, Costa probably should have been driving on the more truck-friendly 14 Freeway. On the one hand, brake failure was a mechanical issue. On the other, when his brakes started to overheat, Costa just poured water over them instead of pulling over and allowing them to cool down.

The case received a lot of attention within the industry as it addressed to what degree a driver is responsible for faulty equipment. Clearly jurors felt that Costa’s actions did not warrant the jail time that would go along with second-degree murder, but still held him at least partially responsible for mechanical failure. This case is still being contested, as is the degree to which drivers are responsible for their equipment in general.

A disturbing point to make is that all but two of the jurors were willing to convict Costa of two counts of 2nd degree murder. Since the typical criminal jury consists of 12 people, this means that 10 out of 12 people thought that a truck driver deserved at least 50 years in prison for a mechanical failure.


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Source: latimes, nbclosangeles

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17 comments. Add a comment.

  1. cgc4200 says

    Precisely why I am no longer part of the industry. Low pay, inadequate home time, and its no fun anymore anyway. Add to this the jackass shippers and receivers and increased law enforcement efforts to weed out good drivers by trashing up their CDL with points over silly b.s. and it’s a recipe for constant turnover forever. The same companies are offering the same starting wages they were 20 years ago when I started driving for CFI. I guess employee retention being a smart investment escapes these companies management teams. I wouldn’t let a 20-something dropout dispatching for one of these loser outfits have any say over my life for anything. The trucking industry sucks whether you are a company driver, a raped over the coals lease driver, or a bologna sandwich eating owner operator. You can make more in your first year in the oilfield with no experience than a 20 year safe driving veteran can make putting up with b.s. from smart alec receivers everyday. Have fun and good luck I got out in 2010 and ain’t coming back.

  2. Alan says

    Because of things like this and the regs that are in the pipeline, I don’t think I’ll be driving in another 5 years. It’s just not worth it anymore.

  3. steve says

    Thank god they didnt throw this poor guys life away also. I am sure he did not wake up that morning and knew how the terrible day would end. It is a shame this tragedy happened to this poor girl and her dad and I pray for them but let me just also say that prosecutors are very dishonest people also ! They will do or say anything to convict someone to win a case even if it means lying. I myself when I was an eighteen year old kid was blamed for robbing food off a truck in Secaucus NJ in which I was in the area and fit a description but never committed the crime! I was arrested and put in jail for a night and had to go to court until the third time I went and was advised the case was dismissed ! No reason! It still burns me up thirty years later that police and prosecutors can get away with these things and how many innocent people go to jail ! Anyway I am happy the driver did not go to jail because it would of helped no one.

  4. Michael James US Army Retired says

    The guy that shot and killed the firemen in NY last week only got 7 years for beating his Mother to death with a hammer. This is not justice in either case.

  5. carl says

    because he is a “minister” he should be less responsible for his actions or inaction? i don’t get the connection. maybe he should have his brakes maintained by mechanics instead of relying on prayer.

    lesson learned, superstition trumps common sense.

  6. Old guy says

    When is it the company’s or owner’s liability for faulty equipment ? It’s always the driver’s who are hung out to dry. We are lucky to have a really great mechanic at our yard. He is the best. We write something up and he fixes it quickly. Union too.

  7. KM says

    I’ve been driving since 1983. Always inspected my equiptment, did my logs, no accidents or fines. Then these new electronic logs came in. After learning how they work, I still manage to mess up on little things, but I adjusted. Then came new regs. And points system. I’ve been in roadside and DOT inspections at least 5 times a year now, not to mention surprise inspections at the coops. What gets me is I’m clean. The DOT says my logs are always complete up to the minute and I always do inspections. But with large companies with lots of drop trailers, you never know what you’ll hook up to the next load. I can hook to a trailer that a spotter knocked a parking lamp out while moving it around the yard, and the nearest place to fix it is ten miles passed the scales. So the alternative is pay a servicce truck $200.com00 to come to the yard to fix a broken lite? Things have gotten real crazy real fast.

  8. KM says

    Before you can take a chance and slide by the scale to get the lite fixed cheaper at a truckstop or at the roost, but now if you chance it and they decide to inspect you, points will be added to your record. Out of all the DOT inspections, I had a dimcab lite the DOT said was burned out, a nail lodged in a trailer tire, which must have been where I couldn’t see it, and a few auto inflaters that leaked air, or barely hissed while sitting. Just the same, I was warned if I get any more points, I may have to be let go. My perfect 27 year record is now junk.

  9. Fireant says

    That’s saying it like it is. Sometimes after my ten hour break I would get up and all the trucks windows had drips of water streaks on them and they all looked like jail bars. Look at school teacher pay and hours and benefits then look at over the road driver pay, benefits and hours allowed to work while away from a real life for free. Drivers your not appreciated anymore, your expected to do your jobs and get going. So Sad. Thank you for all the truck drivers who make things happen.

  10. Patty says

    That’s horrible 2 lives were lost.But had it been a car that lost his brks and killed those 2,that driver woud’nt be in jail and this case would be labled as an accident.Especially California,they hate trks and will go to great lengths to get them off the road.

  11. Mazed says

    He overheated his brakes and should have waited till they had cooled off . He either didn’t know any better , which makes this a sad unfortunate incident, or he was in a hurry and took a chance, which makes this a manslaughter for lack of care for public safety.

  12. gcNewDog says

    @steve: HE IS going to jail for 7 years under manslaughter, read the story………….
    Frankly that sucks! I am sure this guy had to make his delivery on time or else lose most his pay or even his job, which is why he took the shorter less safe route and water- down his brakes instead of stopping..because he did not have time.
    the whole truck driving business is so screwed up anymore

  13. gcNewDog says

    I understand someone died in result of this accident, but an accident is just that “accident”
    And yes there was some negligence (all due to the pressure of delivering on time) this guy should have received a fine and maybe some minimum jail time or even probation, geez! they give probation to worse offense than this.
    And because the other 2 died they will not investigate if perhaps they were also negligent.
    Most people would benefit from real driving training, I always look in my mirror when I drive (a regular car, I am not a truck driver), I notice how many people don’t ever look in their mirror when flashing lights appear behind you and you’re the only one moving over.
    Another one that gets me: Driver pass a truck on the up hill because he is going to slow, then on the downhill the same driver goes too slow and the truck driver has to hit his brakes.

    Most drivers anymore have no clue and they are negligent, they should bear some of the responsibility in many truck accident, but everytime the truck driver is blamed for the accident.
    It’s all this political correctness & regular citizens are not responsible for their own actions anymore; there is always someone else to blame.
    Like I poor coffee all over myself, I shall sue the coffee maker company….or fall on my ass: I shall sue the store…better yet; a child swallowed a magnet ball (called buckyballs) that a parent leave around the house; those guys can’t even sell their balls anymore, bankrupt the company because people don’t watch their kids and are not responsible for their kids anymore
    This whole world is sooooo messed up

  14. Adam says

    You took the words out of my mouth buddy. Those are precisely the same reasons I left the industry after 15 years. At 40 I put my family through hardship by going to College, because it was either that or a major breakdown for me. Now I am part of the health care industry and could’t be happier.

  15. Dan says

    If you read the post correctly, he was sentenced to 7 yrs and 4 months instead of 50 yrs. This is totally not right being it was mechanical failure. I can promise you if a person in their car has a mechanical failure and their brakes go out with the same end result, they would not be sent to prison for manslaughter because it was mechanical failure and not their fault. But as soon as it happens to a “truck driver” it’s his fault because he is a professional and is suppose to be a driver, mechanic, electrician, and a magician/fortune teller. I have been driving trucks for over 35 yrs and I get so pissed off when things like this happen just because they always make it out to be the drivers fault. Although I will admit that there are a lot of people driving trucks today that should have never received a CDL nor even been allowed to sit in an 18 wheeler. And this is the trucking companies fault. I can go on and on but i’m going to stop now or you will be reading for days.

  16. Martin S says

    I agree with the views of this posting. Not only the regulation but unless the pay improves to pay for the qualifications of the driver, there will be lots of drivers in prison paying for the shippers work. I can not believe that the government will join forces with these bigger trucking companies and allowing the fourteen hours per day and seventy hours weekly dot rule. I have been driving since 1977 and this is not the America that I know.

  17. dj says

    wait a minute…he poured water on hot brakes and continued driving?! sorry, no sympathy for this driver at all. and he could have been on a more truck friendly route? again no sympathy for the driver. his actions multiplied the danger. and please, i know what i talk about, over 40 yrs as driver, both company and o/o and i have an excellent safety record. for a change before all of you drivers jump on “they are persecuting the truck driver again” band wagon, read and understand all of the facts. the drivers aren’t always being “piled” on.

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