Prosecutors to charge engineer in fatal Amtrak derailment

Two passenger cars lie on their side after the derailment of Amtrak train 188 in Philadelphia on May 12, 2015. (Photo courtesy of National Transportation Safety Board)

WASHINGTON – A Philadelphia judge Thursday ordered city prosecutors to reverse course and criminally charge the engineer of a speeding Amtrak train that derailed in the city in May 2015, killing eight people and injuring more than 200.

President Judge Marsha Neifield of Philadelphia Municipal Court ordered charges of involuntary manslaughter and reckless endangerment against engineer Brandon Bostian.

The move comes two days after the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office announced it had failed to prove engineer Brandon Bostian displayed “conscious disregard” for safety when he sped 106 mph on a curve with a 50 mph limit.

With the deadline for filing criminal charges looming Friday, prosecutors had said they decided against criminal prosecution of Bostian after the National Transportation Safety Board found he lost track of his location as a result of a lack of “situational awareness” after he learned a nearby commuter train had been hit by a rock.

Attorney Richard A. Sprague asked the DA to accept a criminal complaint filed on behalf of the husband and father of Rachel Jacobs, a young mother killed in the crash.

Sprague, speaking at a Thursday evening news conference, said it “was a shock” that the DA’s Office had refused to pursue criminal charges against Bostian.

“Can you imagine someone driving down Market Street at 100 miles per hour, hitting people, killing people, and the DA saying we don’t have a basis for prosecuting anybody?” Sprague said.

Federal investigators said they found no evidence Bostian was under the influence of alcohol or drugs or that he had been using a cellphone at the time of the May 12, 2015, derailment of Amtrak train 188, en route from Washington to New York.

On Tuesday, the District Attorney’s Office issued a statement saying, “We cannot conclude that the evidence rises to the high level necessary to charge the engineer or anyone else with a criminal offense.”

Neifield’s order followed a request to the District Attorney’s Office from lawyers for victims of the derailment of Amtrak train 188 that criminal charges be filed against Bostian.

Amtrak has accepted responsibility for the crash and agreed to pay $265 million to settle related claims.

The following day, lawyers with the office of Richard A. Sprague, a prominent city lawyer and former first assistant district attorney, formally asked the District Attorney’s Office to accept a criminal complaint filed by the husband and father of Rachel Jacobs, a young mother killed in the crash.

Two other lawyers who represent 32 victims in lawsuits against Amtrak also asked for criminal charges against Bostian.

The DA’s office said it was referring the prosecution to the state’s attorney general to avoid any appearance of conflict of interest.

In a statement Thursday afternoon, Cameron L. Kline, communications director for the District Attorney’s Office, said: “President Judge Neifield has ordered the filing of two private criminal complaints as a result of the Amtrak train 188 derailment. In view of our earlier decision not to file charges, we have referred this prosecution to the Pennsylvania attorney general. We take this action to avoid the potential for any apparent conflict of interest, consistent with the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Attorney’s Act.”

This article is republished with permission from Talk Media News.