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After going it alone, Costa agrees to bring on new attorney

Truck driver charged with muder in fatal ACH crash agrees to new representation

February 08, 2011|By Joe Piasecki, joe.piasecki@latimes.com

After months of struggling to mount his own defense against murder charges, the driver involved in the 2009 Angeles Crest Highway runaway truck accident that killed two people has agreed to a have a court-appointed attorney.

Edward Murphy, a veteran criminal defense attorney who had been appointed by the court to stand in as Costa’s attorney if the truck driver gave up on representing himself, is wasting no time in speaking up for his new client.

“If this case doesn’t settle and we have a jury trial, one of the first things I’ll be telling the jury is that the murder charges are absurd,” said Murphy, in private practice in Malibu. “I understand this is a terrible tragedy, but the bottom line is that doesn’t make Mr. Costa guilty of murder.”

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Costa has previously argued that the state’s failure to maintain runaway truck ramps, clear signage and other safety controls on Angeles Crest Highway contributed to the April 1, 2009, collision that killed a Palmdale man and his 12-year-old daughter where the highway meets Foothill Boulevard.

Murphy claimed that La Cañada Flintridge officials were well aware of the dangerous road conditions, but that the California Department of Transportation did too little, too late.

“There’s no question Caltrans is a cause. There are a lot of factors that went into causing this accident,” Murphy said.

In addition to double-murder, Costa is also charged with vehicular manslaughter and reckless driving. Costa parted ways last year with a previous attorney after refusing a deal to plead guilty to the lesser charges for a 16-year prison sentence.

Murphy said he intends to prove that Costa’s driving partner, a man identified as Jose Soares, was responsible for steering the truck onto Angeles Crest Highway toward La Cañada, forcing Costa took the wheel at “the last minute to try to extricate the truck from [the situation].”

“As far as I’m concerned that’s not felony reckless driving, certainly not vehicular manslaughter and most certainly not murder,” Murphy said.

Murphy is attempting to locate Soares and said he intends to call Costa as a witness in his own defense regarding the events leading up to the accident.

Costa’s former attorney, Steve Meister, had won dismissal of the 2009 grand jury murder indictment only to see those charges reinstated by an appeals court.

L.A. County Superior Court Judge Darrell Mavis has set a pretrial hearing for March 10 in Pasadena. The trial could begin as early as April.

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