Amtrak Engineer Not Criminally Responsible for Derailing Train
Judge Thomas F. Gehret of Philadelphia Municipal Court dismissed involuntary manslaughter charges filed against Amtrak engineer Brandon Bostian who was driving a train that derailed in 2015, causing the death of eight people. Gehret said evidence presented by prosecutors led him to conclude that 34-year-old engineer Bostian should not take responsibility for the tragedy.
Deputy Attorney General Christopher Phillips had argued in court that on the day of the crash Bostian “acted with gross negligence. He ignored the risks that were involved.” However, Judge Gehret felt that the incident was “more likely an accident than criminal negligence.” He also dismissed charges of reckless endangerment. In total, Bostian had been charged with eight counts of involuntary manslaughter, one count of causing or risking a catastrophe, and 238 counts of reckless endangerment.
On the day of the derailment, May 12, 2015, Bostian was operating a train from Washington to New York when he increased its speed to 106 miles per hour as it entered a curved section of the track. The designated speed of that point on the track was half of that. The train lost control in a neighborhood of Philadelphia. More than 200 passengers were injured.
Charges were ultimately filed by Attorney General Josh Shapiro of Pennsylvania. The district attorney decided to decline to charge Mr. Bostian with a crime so the case was picked up by Shapiro after families of those affected used a state law that triggered authorities to act. The law allows individuals to issue private criminal complaints in municipal court in misdemeanor cases, including involuntary manslaughter.
John Hines, a senior director of compliance and certification with Amtrak who was involved in the crash investigation described Bostian’s training, which included eight weeks of classroom and simulator work, as well as on-the-job training that required him to memorize his route and be familiar with its speed restrictions. The engineer obeyed speed regulations until the moment had accelerated to 106 mph.
Amtrak Police Detective Joseph Degrazia also testified that Bostian had safely operated trains through the area where the derailment occurred 25 times in the six weeks before the derailment. Over the course of the investigation, authorities came to believe Bostian was confused as to where he was at when he decided to increase the speed. “Are we in New York?” Detective Joseph Knoll recalled Bostian saying. “I heard him say that.”
Shapiro issued the following statement: “The Amtrak crash was a tragedy, and this case has a unique procedural history,” he said. “We are carefully reviewing the judge’s decision, notes of testimony and our prosecutorial responsibilities in this case going forward.”
Thomas R. Kline, who pushed for criminal charges on behalf of a client whose daughter, Rachel Jacobs, died in the derailment, attended the trail. “I anticipate John Jacobs, in particular, will be more than disappointed,” Kline said. “He will be broken-hearted.”
“It’s a horrible tragedy,” Brian J. McMonagle, Bostian’s attorney, agreed, “but the law recognizes there’s a big difference between an accident and a crime.”