Amtrak engineer clear in fatal crash
A Philadelphia judge dropped all criminal charges Tuesday against an Amtrak engineer at the helm during a deadly derailment — following a pretrial hearing full of emotional survivor testimony.
“I feel it’s more likely an accident than criminal negligence,” said Judge Thomas Gehret after a preliminary evidence hearing on the 2015 crash in Philadelphia, which left eight people dead and 200 injured.
Train engineer Brandon Bostian of Astoria, Queens, had faced involuntary- man slaughter and reckless-endangerment raps for barreling into a curve at more than twice the 50 mph speed limit while at the controls of the northeast-corridor train on the night of May 12, 2015.
The 34-year-old engineer had become distracted by radio chatter about a nearby train that was struck by a rock, according to investigators.
Crash survivor Blair Berman testified Tuesday that she realized her train was “going way too fast” just before it derailed, yanking out her headphones to the sound of fellow passengers shouting.
“I heard screaming from the front of the car and then a big bang, and then I blacked out,” Berman said.
She added she was thrown from the wreckage — and when she woke up, she found herself lying in the middle of the woods with other passengers on top of her.
Berman described seeing Bostian walking around after the crash. But she said that when she approached the train engineer for help, he wouldn’t let her use his phone, despite the fact that she was barefoot and hobbling, having broken several bones in the ejection. She said she screamed at him, and he finally relented and let her use the phone to call her father.
The National Transportation Safety Board last year ruled that Bostian was to blame for the horror.
Amtrak struck a settlement in October with survivors and the dead victims’ families to pay them a total of $265 million.
But pressing criminal charges against Bostian seemed doomed almost from the start.
The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office at first refused to pursue a criminal case against him.
“We have no evidence that the engineer acted with criminal ‘intent’ or criminal ‘knowledge,’ ” the DA said in a statement at the time.
“Nor do we believe there is sufficient evidence to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, criminal recklessness.
“Pennsylvania law specially states that one acts with criminal recklessness when a person ‘consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk.’ We do not have evidence sufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the engineer ‘consciously’ disregarded the risk.’’
But a municipal-court judge then intervened, ordering prosecutors to arrest the engineer.
A lawyer who represented some of the victims in their civil cases against Amtrak said Tuesday’s ruling that tossed the charges against Bostian “doesn’t mean he didn’t do anything wrong.”
“It doesn’t mean he wasn’t negligent. It doesn’t mean that his actions didn’t hurt people,’’ said the lawyer, Benedict Morelli.
“It just means he’s not paying for it by going to prison.”
‘AN ACCIDENT’: Engineer Brandon Bostian (right, at court Tuesday) is free of all charges in the May 2015 crash (above) that killed eight and injured 200 in Philadelphia.