Memories of a horrific tragedy of a big-rig truck colliding with a car, which occurred 10 years ago this week, are still fresh in many local residents’ memories. The collision, on Angeles Crest Highway just north of Foothill Boulevard on April 1, 2009, claimed two lives and injured at least 12 people in the heart of La Cañada Flintridge.
It was the lead story on many television newscasts that day and evening, and continued to be a major story in the weeks following.
Angelina Posca, 12, and her father, Angel Jorge Posca, 58, were killed when a car-carrier truck crashed into their red Ford Escort as it headed off the eastbound 210 Freeway. The impact and the truck, driven by Marcos Costa of Massachusetts, pushed the car down Angeles Crest to Foothill Boulevard, before it crashed into the Flintridge Bookstore.
The father and daughter were on their way home to Palmdale after leaving his Long Beach-based dental lab. Angelina had reportedly wanted to spend time with him at the lab. Meanwhile, Costa had reportedly ignored two warnings about his brakes as he headed toward LCF.
“It’s something that’s burned into the psyche of the entire community,” said Laura Olhasso, LCF mayor back when the crash occurred a decade ago. “Everyone travels that corner all of the time.”
“I’m thinking about the young girl who would be 22 now,” said state Sen. Anthony Portantino, a former LCF mayor. “That’s one of the things that affected us so strongly. This was a 12-year-old girl going to work with her dad.
My own two daughters were in that intersection an hour before the crash. And it should have never happened in the first place.”
Peter Wannier, the longtime owner of the Flintridge Bookstore & Coffeehouse, was inside his store when the truck crashed into it. (Wannier’s business was formerly located in the spot now occupied by Compass/Pacific Union real estate; the bookstore relocated about 75 yards to the west after suffering significant damage in the accident.) Wannier said no customers or employees were injured in the crash.
“At the moment just before the impact, I was standing facing toward the front of the store, kind of
halfway through doing some arrangement of books on the sale table,” Wannier said. “Somebody looked up and said, ‘Oh, my gosh.’ And then I started turning around and at that point I heard a lot of noise that I immediately recognized as probably being a vehicle coming through. But I could see nothing because the air was so thick with flying dust and debris that I actually couldn’t see the truck. It was about 15 feet from me as it came through. All I could detect was sort of vague motion because the air was opaque. I could hear plenty of noise, things breaking and crushing and crashing and so on and so on. And I immediately thought, ‘Oh, that’s a heavy vehicle coming through my store.’”
He first went to see if there were customers in the part of the store where the truck came through and then encountered the rear wheels of the truck that had heavy smoke coming out from them.
“I immediately thought these are the brakes of this truck, which are clearly smoking,” Wannier said. “And it was difficult to breathe. I remember calling around, shouting as best as I could — I couldn’t breathe, really — to see if there was anybody in there. Nobody answered.”
Current LCF Councilman Greg Brown remembers being at the scene after the crash occurred and hearing a cellphone ring.
“It continues to haunt,” Brown said. “Oftentimes when I go through that intersection and I’m looking for southbound traffic, [the crash] comes to mind but, at the same time, I’m delighted the fix and fixes seem to have worked. The primary one was the legislation and the signage that prevented future trucks from coming through. The fact that it’s been 10 years and we haven’t had anything even close to that crash is certainly gratifying.”
Lt. Mark Slater, interim captain at the Crescenta Valley Sheriff’s Station, worked at the time of the collision as a traffic supervisor and oversaw its investigation. He said when he arrived on the scene, he realized the dead and injured were spread over two city blocks. Additional help was called in from the department’s traffic services detail and from the Santa Clarita Station as well as the California Highway Patrol.
Over the next 16 hours, Slater said, the scene was processed and an investigation began to focus on why Costa used Angeles Crest Highway to drive from the Antelope Valley into Los Angeles.
Initial investigative work determined that Costa used a GPS to drive on Angeles Crest, Slater said. Based on the initial findings, the Sheriff’s Department believed there was enough probable cause to arrest Costa for vehicular manslaughter, Slater said.
“Over my 33-year career, I have investigated hundreds of collisions and this was one of the most tragic collisions I was involved in,” Slater said in an email. “I have seen death a lot and sometimes the loss of life remains forever in my mind, but this is especially true when young children are involved. My continued thoughts and prayers are with the Posca family on this 10-year anniversary. The Crescenta Valley Station hopes the events of April 1, 2009, are never repeated and our deputies will continue to enforce the truck restrictions on Angeles Crest Highway in memory of Angel and his daughter, Angelina.”
Costa was sentenced to more than seven years in prison after being convicted of two counts of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence and one count of reckless driving causing injuries, said Luis Patino, spokesman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, in a statement. Per law, Patino said, the court gave Costa 1,217 days of pre-sentence credits that were given for time served in jail while awaiting sentencing. He began his sentence on Oct. 11, 2011 and was paroled on July 24, 2013 for “having served his full term per law,” Costa said.
The Posca family has never forgotten. Every year on the anniversary of the tragedy, family members come to eat at the Hill Street Cafe located near the crash and at the end of the ACH, cafe partner Mark Kim said.
“I can’t believe this was 10 years ago, we can still hear their voices and see their faces,” said Kristen Eddy, a longtime friend of the Poscas who lives in Pasadena, in a statement. “The horror and anguish of that day will never leave us, as we continue to feel so deeply the loss of their huge place in our hearts and lives. ‘Jorge’ and Angelina truly are our angels. They were both phenomenal, extraordinary human beings and we carry their immense love for life and for our family with us in our hearts forever.”
According to reports, Costa was also ordered to pay $87,204 to a victim compensation fund and $23,762 to LCF.
The city reached a $50,000 settlement in a wrongful death lawsuit with the family of the deceased victims in January 2012, said City Manager Mark Alexander. The Posca family settled with Caltrans for $2.25 million, confirmed agency spokesman Eric Menjivar.
Olhasso said the city was lucky Portantino, her former colleague on the City Council and a then state assemblyman, and Carol Liu, a former councilwoman who moved on to the state Senate, were able to move legislation so quickly. The legislation banned vehicles with three or more axles or a gross weight of 9,000 or more pounds on the segment of Angeles Crest between LCF and county Route N4.
“I went up to Sacramento and testified,” Olhasso said. “And the good folks in Sacramento passed that legislation without a blink, which was great. I remember that feeling. I took a picture of that sign on Angeles Crest and thought, ‘OK, we did that. At least we got that.’”
Since the legislation passed, there have been about 20 citations issued for violating truck size or weight, said Slater.
Portantino said he recently ran into former state Department of Transportation director Will Kempton for the first time in five years on Monday and they spoke about what happened. The day after the crash, Kempton, at the insistence of then Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, flew from Sacramento to study Angeles Crest Highway. Immediately, the governor approved a 90-day ban on all trucks along the highway.
“We literally talked about how after that accident I called him and he came down the next day and surveyed the damage. Within a short amount of time, we were able to run legislation to prohibit large trucks on that road,” Portantino said. “The signage is a deterrent. There were attempts to get Google Maps and other mapping programs to respond and I believe they have … I hope they have.”
A commemorative plaque was placed at Glenola Park on April 1, 2010 — the one-year anniversary of the crash — to honor the memory of Angel and Angelina and those injured. It remains today near a yellow sign that reads “Runaway Vehicle Escape Median Left Lane,” alerting drivers on Angeles Crest.
“After 10 years, it is still a horrific memory and a tragedy that doesn’t fade,” said Alexander, who has been LCF’s city manager for two decades. “Our hearts and thoughts continue to be with the Posca family during this time.”