Crime or terrible accident? Trial begins in deadly 2015 Amtrak derailment

Crime or terrible accident? Trial begins in deadly 2015 Amtrak derailment

Category: Auto Accidents

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Was a tragic derailment a “terrible accident” or did the train engineer recklessly fail to do his job at a dangerous point in his route?

On Friday morning, prosecutors and defense attorneys laid out opposing perspectives on the line between an accident and a crime in the case of Brandon Bostian, the train engineer onboard when Amtrak train No. 188 derailed in Philadelphia in 2015.

Both sides agree on the facts of the derailment itself. Bostian’s train departed 30th Street Station shortly after 9 p.m on May 12. It picked up speed as it headed into a tight curve near Frankford Junction, reaching 106 mph when the speed limit was 50 mph. Bostian braked, but the train derailed seconds later, killing 8 people and sending nearly 200 to the hospital.

Pennsylvania courts repeatedly disagreed as to whether the engineer’s involvement should go to trial, but a 2020 Pennsylvania Superior Court decision cleared the way for a criminal case to proceed.

Bostian faces one count of causing a catastrophe, eight counts of involuntary manslaughter, and 246 of recklessly endangering another person. He waived his formal arraignment and pleaded not guilty to all charges on Friday morning.

Prosecutors laid out Bostian’s extensive training and expertise, arguing that it amounted to an obligation not to make a mistake. In order to hold his position, “he’s got to show that he’s got the visual characteristics of that route memorized,” said senior deputy attorney general Christopher Phillips. That training is mandatory because “all those people are in your hands, every time you go to work,” he continued.

The prosecution also described Bostian’s actions after the derailment as evidence that he was conscious of being at “the most dangerous curve” in his route.

After getting tossed from his cabin, Bostian was wandering around the scene when he encountered passenger Blair Berman. Berman asked to use his phone, and Bostian eventually agreed. He was able to tell her where in the track they were, even though he would later be confused about his location when taken to the hospital to treat a concussion.

Knowing where he was, and knowing his main job was to “control the speed of the train,” puts Bostian’s behavior over the line, according to prosecutors.“The law recognizes that sometimes in an accident the conduct is so reckless, so negligent, that it becomes a crime,” said Phillips.

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