Court clears engineers of criminal charges

Friday, May 9, 2003

HANOVER, Germany -- A court on Thursday dismissed charges against three engineers accused of negligence in Germany's worst train crash, which killed 101 people and injured 105.

The dismissal followed an April 28 finding by the court that there was not enough evidence to convict the men of negligent homicide and bodily harm. Prosecutors and defense attorneys on Thursday agreed with the court's proposal and the men were cleared of criminal wrongdoing but ordered to pay fines of $11,360 each.

The men had been on trial since August. If convicted, they faced as much as five years in prison.

The crash occurred near the town of Eschede on June 3, 1998, when the high-speed InterCityExpress bound for Hamburg derailed and slammed into a bridge pillar. Authorities suspect a broken wheel caused the derailment.

"After experts were questioned, we believe it can no longer be assumed that (the defendants) could have noticed the error within a short time frame," prosecutor Juergen Wigger said. "The only thing they can be accused of now is not having asked other experts for advice."

Joachim Thilo von Madeyski, 67, Volker Fischer, 56, and Franz Murawa, 55, all faced 101 counts of negligent homicide and 105 counts of causing bodily harm.

Prosecutors originally charged that the three defendants did not ensure the safety of the wheels, which had a rubber rim encased in steel. The accident prompted a change to solid steel wheels for the first generation of ICE trains, the type that derailed.

Two of the men charged were former railroad employees in charge of wheel safety at the national railroad, Deutsche Bahn. The third was manager of a firm that manufactures train wheels. All three denied wrongdoing.

The charges were dropped despite opposition from lawyers for victims and relatives taking part as co-plaintiffs.

New York-based attorney Ed Fagan, who represented an American woman injured in the crash, Jaime Hawk, threatened to sue Deutsche Bahn for damages in a U.S. court.

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