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Warning signs to blame in runaway truck crash?

Scout who reported on Crest's dangers tapped for murder defense.

July 06, 2011|By Joe Piasecki, joe.piasecki@latimes.com

A former Girl Scout who warned of dangerous conditions on Angeles Crest Highway months before a fatal runaway truck crash in 2009 testified on Tuesday in the murder trial of that truck’s driver that he would not have seen warning signs along the mountainous roadway.

In opening arguments, Deputy District Atty. Carolina Lugo told jurors that driver Marcos Costa and co-driver Jose Soares would have seen, but ignored, a “no trucks” sign at the entrance of Angeles Forest Highway before using that road to reach Angeles Crest.

Malia Mailes, who presented her Girl Scout Gold Award Project before the La Cañada Flintridge City Council on March 2, 2009, told jurors she did not see such a sign during her research the month before her presentation.

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Soares, called by Lugo to testify last week, also denied seeing such a sign the day Costa’s car-hauler lost its brakes and plowed through busy traffic Foothill Boulevard in La Cañada Flintridge, killing a Palmdale man and his 12-year-old daughter.

Defense attorney Edward Murphy has told jurors the crash was an accidental tragedy, saying Costa properly maintained his truck and was unaware of the road's dangers when the route was prescribed by his GPS system.

Lugo contends, however, that Costa and Soares ignored evidence of imminent brake failure leading up to the crash and failed to heed the warnings about the highway's steep grade from a witness who flagged the truck down after noticing its brakes were smoking.

Subpoenaed by Murphy, Mailes was permitted by L.A. Superior Court Judge Darrell Mavis to testify prior to completion of the prosecution’s case because the recent La Cañada High School graduate was preparing to travel this week.

In September 2008, a truck carrying 78,000 pounds of onions lost its brakes on Angeles Crest and crashed on Foothill Boulevard. Though no one was injured, the incident inspired Mailes’ project and prompted local calls for state transportation officials to re-examine safety features of the roadway.

But before Mailes took the stand and jurors took their seats, Lugo argued before Mavis that Mailes should not be allowed to testify because the teen was not an expert witness and because her report relied on maps, charts and other third-party — in legal terms, hearsay — information to draw its conclusions.

For similar reasons, Lugo also disputed inclusion of any testimony by Mailes about the onion truck crash.

Mavis ruled that Mailes could testify only about her personal observations and the photos she took during the project — not about its conclusions or her reasons for doing it.

“If you feel this is your best evidence of the conditions of the roadway on or before April 1, these charges definitely merit hearing that kind of evidence, and what’s visible to somebody going down the road is certainly evidence,” Mavis told Murphy.

Outside the courtroom, Mailes declined to offer opinions about the murder charges against Costa.

“It was a really tragic event,” she said. “I don’t want to pick sides. It’s not something I feel I should share my opinion on.”
 
 

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