Charges dropped against engineer in fatal Amtrak derailment in 2015

Dan Wing
July 23, 2019 - 12:54 pm
NTSB

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UPDATED: 5:50 p.m.

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — For a second time, charges have been dropped against the engineer at the helm of the ill-fated Amtrak 188 train in May 2015, which killed eight people and injured hundreds more in Northeast Philadelphia.

Brandon Bostian, who was 32 at the time of the crash, was initially charged with eight counts of involuntary manslaughter and 246 counts of reckless endangerment, after a preliminary report revealed the case was due to a loss of the engineer's "situational awareness."

Federal investigators found that the train had sped to more than 100 mph as it went around a bend in Frankford, sending it tumbling off the tracks. 

Common Pleas Judge Barbara McDermott rejected the involuntary manslaughter and reckless endangerment charges Tuesday after Bostian's lawyers argued that any mistakes he made did not rise to the level of a crime.

The charges were dropped once prior at the initial trial in September 2017, but the Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General reinstated the charges in February 2018.

A trial had been previously scheduled for this September. The case was postponed for so long because both the defense and prosecutors said the National Transportation and Safety Board and Amtrak were not handing over crucial or exculpatory evidence.

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Defense attorney Brian McMonagle said it's time to let the case go.

"There's no good reason in the world for this not to end," he said. "The (Philadelphia) District Attorney's Office two years ago decided there was no crime. The Department of Justice decided there was no crime. Two judges have now decided there was no crime here.

"You know, good people sometimes have accidents."

Brandon Bostian
Matt Rourke/AP, file
McMonagle added that there's another part of the story: People were throwing rocks at the train before it crashed, and the lack of speed-controlling technology on the turn contributed to its derailment.

NTSB investigators concluded Bostian lost his bearings while distracted by radio chatter about a nearby train that had been struck by a rock. They found no evidence he was impaired or was using a cellphone.

"(Bostian) was operating his train perfectly that night until his train went through a crime scene where criminals were throwing stones through the windows of moving passenger trains," McMonagle argued.

Amtrak has taken responsibility for the crash, agreeing to pay $265 million to settle claims filed by victims and their families.

"It's a very big disappointment to the families who have been waiting for some measure of public accountability and justice," attorney Thomas R. Kline, who represents two of the families, said of the latest ruling. "We are hopeful that that day will come after appellate review and hopeful for a reversal of today's decision."

Since the accident, the railroad has installed positive train control technology on its Boston-to-Washington tracks that can automatically slow or stop a speeding train.

The Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General has until Aug. 16 to appeal once again. Bostian remains free in the meantime.

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KYW Newsradio's Rachel Kurland and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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