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Amtrak engineer faces charges in fatal 2015 derailment

Brandon Bostian Photo: LinkedIn

PHILADELPHIA — The Amtrak engineer in a 2015 derailment in Philadelphia that killed eight people and injured more than 200 was charged Friday with a felony count of causing or risking a catastrophe and multiple counts of misdemeanor involuntary manslaughter.

The second-degree felony charge that Brandon Bostian faces carries a punishment of up to 10 years in prison. It alleges he was reckless in the operation of the train.

He also is charged with eight counts on involuntary manslaughter, a first-degree misdemeanor, and “numerous” charges of reckless endangerment, a second-degree misdemeanor, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said Friday.

“I commend our outstanding team in the office of the Attorney General, (which) worked diligently and thoughtfully around the clock to enable us to be in this position to pursue justice on behalf of the victims of this deadly crash,” Shapiro said.

CNN’s calls to Bostian were not returned.

Local prosecutors declined to charge

On Tuesday, the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office had completed its investigation into the derailment at the Frankford Junction on May 12, 2015, finding that while evidence indicated that the derailment was caused by Bostian operating the train “far in excess of the speed limit,” the evidence did not rise to the level of pressing charges against him because there was no evidence he acted with criminal “intent” or criminal “knowledge.”

While local prosecutors declined to press charges, Pennsylvania law allows for private criminal complaints to be filed.

On Thursday, attorney Thomas R. Kline filed a private complaint on behalf of John Jacobs, father of Rachel Jacobs, who died in the crash. Judge Marsha Neifield of Philadelphia Municipal Court issued an order saying Bostian could be charged with involuntary manslaughter and reckless endangerment.

Prosecutors then sent the case to the attorney general, who added the felony charge.

Kline and attorney Robert Mongeluzzi represent 32 victims in ongoing litigation against Amtrak, which has declined to comment to CNN.

NTSB inquiry results

The 2016 National Transportation Safety Board investigation into the derailment concluded that prior to the crash Bostian was distracted by radio conversations between other trains and dispatchers about other trains being hit with projectiles.

NTSB investigators say they found no evidence the Amtrak engineer was using alcohol, drugs or a cell phone. The ride from the train station in Philadelphia to the site of the derailment was 11 minutes. Investigators say seven to nine of those minutes the engineer was listening to and participating in the radio conversations regarding other trains being hit with a projectile.

When NTSB investigators interviewed him, the discussion of trains being hit by a projectile was one of the few details the engineer remembered clearly.

The Amtrak passenger train was traveling from Washington to New York City when seven of its cars and its engine jumped the rails. The train’s data recorder revealed it was traveling at 106 miles per hour around a sharp curve that had a speed limit of 50 mph.

Of the 238 passengers, eight were killed — Laura Finamore, James Gaines, Abid Gilani, Robert Gildersleeve, Derrick Griffith, Rachel Jacobs, Giuseppe Piras and Justin Zemser.

The section of track where the train derailed was not equipped with safety equipment called automatic train control. The automated system notifies an engineer if the train is speeding and applies the brakes automatically if the engineer does not respond. The NTSB has said had that equipment been installed the accident would not have happened.

Amtrak has since installed that speed control along the section of track where the derailment occurred.