A judge ordered last week that criminal charges be brought against the train engineer who caused the 2015 Amtrak derailment in Philadelphia that killed eight people and injured 200 others. The surprise move came just one day after Philadelphia prosecutors announced on, May 10 that they did not have enough evidence to charge him.
Charges came late on Friday, May 12, against engineer Brandon Bostian, a 2001 graduate of Bartlett High School. They include a felony charge of risking/causing a catastrophe, as well as two misdemeanors over one passenger’s death and seven additional counts of involuntary manslaughter.
The accident on May 12, 2015, killed eight people and injured about 200 others. A statement from the District Attorney’s Office on May 10 said that Bostian caused the derailment by operating the train far beyond the speed limit at the Frankford Junction in Pennsylvania (reported by multiple sources as 106 mph in a 50 mph curve).
The charges were an abrupt change from a May 10 press release from the D.A.’s office, saying that there is no evidence to show that Bostian acted with criminal intent or knowledge under Pennsylvania law, and there was not enough to evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he acted with criminal recklessness.
The Philadelphia D.A.’s conclusion came after an extensive investigation: Two senior members of the Homicide Unit worked closely with Philadelphia Police and Amtrak officials, including experienced train engineers. Both Assistant District Attorneys (ADAs) consulted with officials of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and thoroughly reviewed the NTSB report. They rode in the cab of a train along the route leading to the scene of the derailment. The team reviewed the audio tapes of what the engineer said and heard before the derailment, and reviewed the engineer’s cell phone, cell phone records, and cell site data. Finally, the two senior Homicide ADAs consulted with experts in train operation.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro explained that the unusual order charging Bostian arose from a Philadelphia judge who heard a request from the family of one of the derailment victims. That family sought a private criminal complaint after learning that Bostian wouldn’t be charged by the two-year deadline on May 12.
Previously, the National Transportation Safety Board found that Bostian had apparently lost his bearings on that curve of track. (The speed limit soars up to 110 mph within two miles after the curve.) The NTSB did not identify evidence that he was impaired or using a cellphone at the time of the accident.
Bostian has his own lawsuit pending against Amtrak, alleging that something struck his train before it went off the rails, rendering him either disoriented or unconscious. The NTSB findings, however, showed no evidence that anything struck his train.
A nearby train was struck just before the derailment, and NTSB chairman Christopher Hart has said that the radio conversation about that strike might have distracted Bostian.
Amtrak has already agreed to a $265 million settlement with the derailment victims and their families.
CAROLYN BAHM is the editor of The Bartlett Express. Contact her at (901) 433-9138 or via email to firstname.lastname@example.org.