The man who was driving Amtrak train No. 188 when it flew off the rails in Philadelphia two years ago killing eight people and injuring 200 is now facing criminal charges, the Pennsylvania attorney general announced today.
Brandon Bostian, 34, has been charged with eight counts of involuntary manslaughter, one count of causing or risking a catastrophe and numerous counts of reckless endangerment. Per Pennsylvania law, involuntary manslaughter when it was a direct result of reckless or negligent behavior is a first-degree misdemeanor punishable by two-and-a-half to five years in prison per charge. The statute of limitations for reckless endangerment charges is up today, the second anniversary of the derailment.
Earlier this week, the Office of Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams announced that it would not charge Bostian, the train’s engineer, despite saying that Bostian was operating the train at an unsafe speed.
Following that announcement, attorneys representing victims of the crash demanded the criminal case be reopened. Attorneys asked the Office of the District Attorney to accept a private criminal complaint filed by the husband and father of Rachel Jacobs, a Philadelphia mother killed in the crash, according to The Inquirer. Judge Marsha Neifield ruled in their favor, ordering the district attorney to charge Bostian with involuntary manslaughter and reckless endangerment. The Inquirer also reported that while it’s uncommon for a judge to overrule the DA’s office, it isn’t unprecedented.
The case was referred to the office of Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who can either decide to comply with the order and charge Bostian or appeal it to the state Superior Court. In a statement, Williams’ office confirmed the order and its rationale in sending it to Harrisburg, arguing it did not want to create the appearance of a conflict of interest given its decision not to press charges earlier this week.
Last year, the NTSB released its investigation into the crash and ruled Bostian was partially 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 Junction, where Bostian’s train was traveling. Amtrak 188 sped up to 106 m.p.h. 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.
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.”
Here’s the full criminal complaint against Bostian: