Amtrak CEO Takes “Full Responsibility”

Joseph Boardman, Tom Wolf, Michael Nutter

Joseph Boardman, Amtrak CEO, speaks while Gov. Tom Wolf, and Mayor Michael Nutter listen. | Associated Press

Here’s what we know about the Amtrak derailment, on the third morning following the accident that claimed eight lives:

We knew newer safety equipment wasn’t installed. Neither was older safety equipment. “The Positive Train Control system has garnered plenty of attention after officials determined it was not installed on the Philadelphia railway where Amtrak Regional 188 hurled off the tracks Tuesday night,” NBC 10 reports. “Yet another system called Automatic Train Control which has been around for decades also wasn’t installed on the track, even though it’s installed on tracks throughout the country.” That system “signals the engineer if the train exceeds speed limits. The engineer has a few seconds to slow the train before the safety system takes over and brings it to a stop.” It’s installed on the southbound tracks — but not on the northbound side.

Why are the safety systems absent? “A spokeswoman for the railroad said Thursday that the decision not to install the system on the northbound stretch of track had been made in the 1990s and reflected the maximum allowable speeds in each direction,” the New York Times says. “Trains approaching Philadelphia from New York can travel as fast as 110 miles per hour, Amtrak said, and face a steeper decrease in allowable speed heading into the curve than trains traveling from Philadelphia toward New York.”

Amtrak’s CEO says the railroad takes full responsibility for the wreck. “With truly heavy hearts, we mourn those who died. Their loss leaves holes in the lives of their families and communities,” Joseph Boardman, Amtrak president and CEO, said in a letter on Amtrak’s official blog. “Amtrak takes full responsibility and deeply apologizes for our role in this tragic event.”

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Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

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For those of us who have been pleading the cause of police reform since before Ferguson spotlighted the issue, Thursday’s acquittal of six Narcotics Unit cops accused of shaking down drug dealers is bound to be a disappointment and discouragement.

This process was never going to be easy.

The truth is: While the case against the six seemed pretty devastating back when you read the indictment or listened to prosecutors announcing the charges, it was rather less impressive once it got back to court.

I attended a couple of days of the trial in the early going. While the details were salacious  — one drug dealer, testifying that the officers had threatened to throw him off a balcony, quoted one as saying, “This is fucking Training Day for real” — the truth is that the case boiled down to the word of drug dealers (and one admittedly corrupt cop) versus the word of a half-dozen police officers. Read more »

Narcotics Cops Found Not Guilty on All Counts

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The six former Philadelphia Police officers accused of shaking down drug dealers have been found not guilty on all counts in their federal trial.

The officers — Thomas Liciardello, Brian Reynolds, Michael Spicer, Perry Betts, John Speiser and Linwood Norman — were part of the narcotics unit in the Philadelphia Police Department. All had been charged with RICO conspiracy. Some were individually charged with conspiracy to deprive of civil rights, deprivation of civil rights, robbery which interferes with interstate commerce, extortion which interferes with interstate commerce, carrying a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence, possession with intent to distribute over 500 grams of cocaine, and falsification of records in a federal investigation.

Commissioner Charles Ramsey called the case “one of the worst cases of police corruption I have ever seen.”

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The MOVE Anniversary: What They’re Saying

It was a local tragedy, but the 30th anniversary of the MOVE bombing has prompted some recollections and other thoughts in national and even international media outlets. A sampling:

CNN:

Sadly, the MOVE bombing provided a preview of police state tactics that are commonplace today, and a militarization of local police forces, brought about by the wars on drugs and terror and funded by asset forfeiture and the feds. Indeed, law enforcement is using weaponry utilized by the military in Iraq and Afghanistan. Under the Defense Department’s 1033 program, along with similar Department of Justice and Homeland Security programs, the cops receive free surplus military arms, aircraft, Humvees, mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles, you name it.

Give wannabe soldiers with no training all the military hardware they want. What could possibly go wrong?

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Lawyers in AG’s Office May Unionize

Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane looks on before newly elected members of the Pennsylvania Legislature are sworn in, Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2015, at the state Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa. Republicans who control both the Senate and House picked up additional seats in the November election. In the House, Republicans outnumber Democrats 119 to 84 and in the Senate, 30 to 20. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane looks on before newly elected members of the Pennsylvania Legislature are sworn in, Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2015, at the state Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa.(AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Here’s another headache for Attorney General Kathleen Kane: The lawyers in her office may unionize.

“The office’s 189 attorneys – minus executive-level staff – have been invited to a May 27 meeting with representatives of the American Federation of Teachers Pennsylvania union in Harrisburg to discuss general ‘workplace rights’ issues,” PennLive reports. “A flyer announcing the meeting and obtained by PennLive promises ‘a frank discussion’ about the following topics: voice at work; job security; and protection against arbitrary treatment at work.” Read more »

Video Released of Amtrak Derailment

Security video of Tuesday night’s Amtrak derailment has been released. It’s grainy enough to be difficult to see what’s going on — but it’s apparent, in the end, that a great deal of violence was involved:

Here’s what else we know about the derailment and its aftermath this morning:

The investigation is focused on the engineer. But the engineer, Brandon Bostian, 32, says he doesn’t remember the moment of the accident. “He remembers driving the train, he remembers going to that area generally, has absolutely no recollection of the incident or anything unusual,” said his attorney Robert Goggin. Goggin said Bostian had 14 staples placed in his head.

Mayor Nutter has confirmed what anonymous sources said: The train was going way too fast. The train was probably going at least 100 mph — the speed limit for trains on that curve in Port Richmond is 50 mph. “Clearly it was reckless in terms of the driving by the engineer. There’s no way in the world he should have been going that fast into the curve,” Mayor Michael Nutter told CNN’s “The Situation Room.

But with that comment, the mayor seems to have run afoul of Robert Sumwalt of the National Transportation Safety Board. “You’re not going to hear the NTSB making comments like that. We want to get the facts before we start making judgments,” Sumwalt told CNN.
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Exterminator Convicted in Center City Doctor’s Death

Jason Smith's picture is shown to the media during a 2013 press conference about the murder charge he faced. | AP

Jason Smith’s picture is shown to the media during a 2013 press conference about the murder charge he faced. | AP

A Bucks County man has been convicted of killing a Center City doctor in her home two years ago.

Dr. Melissa Ketunuti, 35, was a physician and researcher at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Jason Smith, a Bucks County exterminator, was the last person known to have visited her home, the day she died in January 2013. Read more »

Nutter Won’t Confirm Speed at Fault in Amtrak Derailment

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, center right, hugs Lori Dee Patterson, a nearby resident, after she handed him a cup of coffee after he spoke at a news conference near the scene of a deadly train derailment, Wednesday, May 13, 2015, in Philadelphia. An Amtrak train headed to New York City derailed and crashed in Philadelphia on Tuesday night, killing at least six people and injuring dozens more. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)xx

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, center right, hugs Lori Dee Patterson, a nearby resident, after she handed him a cup of coffee after he spoke at a news conference near the scene of a deadly train derailment, Wednesday, May 13, 2015, in Philadelphia. An Amtrak train headed to New York City derailed and crashed in Philadelphia on Tuesday night, killing at least six people and injuring dozens more. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

The search for Amtrak derailment survivors has spread beyond the cars passengers were traveling in when Tuesday night’s accident occurred, Mayor Michael Nutter said during a Wednesday afternoon press conference.

“The search is very, very active” for missing people, including people who might’ve been thrown from the train, Nutter said. “We will not cease our efforts until we’re sure we’ve gone through every vehicle.”

Nutter refused to comment on reports the train might’ve been traveling 100 mph — in an area where rail traffic is limited to 50 mph — saying: “I don’t believe the NTSB would be in a position to confirm that … Let us please not try to speculate what you could find out in fact in a couple of days.”

Even as he spoke, though, the Associated Press reported it had seen a surveillance video showing the train exceeding 100 mph. Read more »

Death Toll Rises in Amtrak Derailment

Left and right photos by Holly Otterbeing. Mayor Nutter image courtesy of Fox 29.

Left and right photos by Holly Otterbein. Mayor Nutter image courtesy of Fox 29.

[Update: 12:40 p.m.] A seventh victim of the Amtrak derailment has died.

A seventh person is dead in an Amtrak train derailment Tuesday night that injured dozens and plunged screaming passengers into darkness and chaos Tuesday night.

A Philadelphia police spokesman confirmed a seventh death early Wednesday afternoon. More details were not immediately available.

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reports that “excessive speed” is suspected as the cause of the crash:

An Amtrak train involved in a fatal crash here appears to have been traveling at more than 100 miles an hour as it entered a sharp curve where it derailed Tuesday night, killing at least six people, according to two people with knowledge of the investigation.

The speed limit in that section of track drops to 50 miles per hour, according to the Federal Railroad Administration.

Investigators are focusing on the possibility that excessive speed was a factor in the derailment, one of these people said.

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