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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