Judge dismisses charges against Amtrak engineer

Wednesday, September 13, 2017
Emergency personnel work at the scene of a derailment May 13, 2015, in Philadelphia of an Amtrak train headed to New York. The derailment killed eight people.
Patrick Semansky ~ Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA -- A judge Tuesday dismissed criminal charges against the engineer in an Amtrak derailment in Philadelphia that killed eight people, citing a lack of evidence.

"Based on this evidence, I feel it's more likely an accident than criminal negligence," Judge Thomas Gehret said after a preliminary hearing for Brandon Bostian, who faced charges that included involuntary manslaughter and reckless endangerment.

The 34-year-old engineer was arrested in May after the family of one of the victims filed a private criminal complaint, and another judge overruled prosecutors who said there wasn't enough evidence against him.

Bostian's lawyers argued in court documents the unusual circumstances leading to Bostian's arrest, as the statute of limitations loomed, had violated his due-process rights.

Bostian's Washington-to-New York train tumbled from the tracks May 12, 2015, after accelerating to 106 mph as it entered a 50-mph curve.

Brandon Bostian

About 200 people were injured.

Federal safety investigators concluded Bostian lost his bearings while distracted by an incident with a nearby train.

At Tuesday's hearing, a passenger who survived the deadly crash testified she could feel the train speed up as it approached a curve, heard a "big bang" as her car hurtled off the tracks, and she wound up unconscious in the woods.

Blair Berman, who suffered several broken bones, testified she encountered Bostian when she regained consciousness -- barefoot and unable to put weight on her leg -- and began screaming for help.

She said Bostian initially refused to let her use his phone, then relented, and she called her father.

Berman, who was living in New York at the time of the crash and was heading home after a Mother's Day weekend in the Philadelphia area, said Bostian appeared alert and aware.

She said he was able to tell her where along the route the train had crashed.

But Philadelphia Police detective Joseph Knoll, testifying later Tuesday, said Bostian didn't seem to know where he was when he arrived at a hospital a few miles from the crash scene.

"Are we in New York?" Bostian asked nurses and others as he walked into the hospital, according to Knoll.

Knoll said he could tell Bostian was injured in the crash because he had a visible head wound but didn't know the engineer had suffered a concussion.

The National Transportation Safety Board found no evidence Bostian was impaired or using a cellphone.

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