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A Philadelphia judge has ordered that the engineer on Amtrak 188 be criminally charged in the 2015 crash that killed eight people and injured about 200. The matter has been referred to the Office of Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, which announced it was “carefully” reviewing the request.
Earlier this week, the Office of Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams announced that it would not charge Brandon Bostian, the train’s engineer, despite saying that Bostian was operating the train at an unsafe speed.
The order states that Bostian should be charged with involuntary manslaughter and reckless endangerment. In a statement, Williams’ office confirmed the order and its rationale in sending it to Harrisburg:
President Judge Neifield has ordered the filing of two private criminal complaints as a result of the Amtrak train 188 derailment. In view of our earlier decision not to file charges, we have referred this prosecution to the Pennsylvania Attorney General. We take this action to avoid the potential for any apparent conflict of interest, consistent with the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Attorney’s Act.
According to The Inquirer, the court order was issued following a hearing in which attorneys representing victims of the crash demanded the criminal case be re-opened. Attorneys asked the Office of the District Attorney to accept a criminal complaint filed by the husband and father of Rachel Jacobs, a Philadelphia mother killed in the crash. The Inquirer also reported that while it’s uncommon for a judge to overrule the DA’s office, it isn’t unprecedented.
Last year, the NTSB released its investigation into the crash and ruled Bostian was at fault, though he was not found to be sleepy, operating his cell phone or under the influence of any drugs or alcohol. The federal organization focused on a radio conversation between Bostian, a dispatcher and a SEPTA Regional Rail engineer who claimed rocks were being thrown at his car around Frankford, where Bostian’s train was traveling. Amtrak 188 sped up to 106 mph around the curve.
This portion of track was not equipped with positive train control or even a less technologically-advanced piece of equipment that could have prevented the train from traveling at such a speed.
Experts questioned whether Williams or any district attorney would even know how to prosecute him.
“By my guess nobody remotely associated with the local office of a district attorney has ever investigated a similar derailment,” Bob Pottroff, a nationally-known train accident lawyer, told Billy Penn. “They have to be 100 percent dependent on federal authorities who are deeply embedded with the railroad industry.”
Despite that, Bostian’s own comments raised eyebrows following the crash. While he’s made few public statements, he was interviewed at least twice by the National Transportation Safety Board as a part of its investigation into the deadly crash. And as part of those interviews, his story changed.
In his first interview with investigators the week the crash occurred, Bostian told the NTSB he had little memory of the night of the crash when investigators said the train, bound for New York, sped around a curve at the Frankford Junction, and then derailed. But in a follow-up interview with NTSB investigators six months later, Bostian, who suffered a head injury during the crash, seemed to have remembered more steps he took moments before the train derailed.
“I couldn’t say with certainty that my memory is accurate,” he told investigators in November. “There are a couple of prominent scenes in my head that have come back to me since we last spoke.”
The engineer, in his second interview with investigators, said he was actually operating the train 10 m.p.h. slower than what was the posted speed limit, and he remembers pushing the throttle forward to get closer to the speed limit. In his first interview though, Bostian didn’t mention going 10 m.p.h. slower than the posted speed limit. In the week after the crash, investigators with the NTSB said the train was traveling at more than 100 m.p.h. when it derailed.
In his first interview with investigators, Bostian admitted he didn’t make a habit out of checking the posted speed limits along his Northeast Corridor routes because they were often wrong.
“In my work habits,” he said, “I don’t really look for the speed restriction signs because a lot of times they’ re either missing or they’re the wrong train type or they’re wrong.”
Anna Orso contributed to this report.