Philly Judge Throws Out Criminal Case Against Amtrak Engineer

The Municipal Court judge didn’t find Brandon Bostian liable for the high-speed derailment that killed eight and injured hundreds of others.

Left: Brandon Bostian (Courtesy of Robert Mongeluzzi); Right: The aftermath of the Amtrak Train 188 derailment (AP/Mel Evans)

A Philadelphia Municipal Court judge on Tuesday formally dismissed criminal charges pending against Brandon Bostian, the 34-year-old train engineer who was driving when Amtrak Train 188 derailed on tracks in Port Richmond on May 12, 2015, AP’s Mike Sisak reports.

Eight people were killed in the high-speed crash that left approximately 200 others injured. The Washington-to-New York bound train was traveling at 106 mph as it entered a 50-mph curve and went off the rails. Bostian supposedly lost his bearings after becoming distracted by an incident with a nearby train, federal safety investigators determined.

“I heard screaming from the front of the car and then a big bang and then I blacked out and woke up in the woods,” New York City resident Blair Berman said at today’s preliminary hearing, before Judge Thomas Gehret dropped charges including involuntary manslaughter and reckless endangerment that were filed against Bostian this past May.

“Based on this evidence, I feel it’s more likely an accident than criminal negligence,” Judge Gehret said following the hearing. Bostian’s criminal liability has long been disputed – a private criminal complaint was filed against him by one of the victim’s family members, but the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office declined to pursue charges. Another Municipal Court judge ultimately overruled the decision and Bostian was then arrested.

Bostian’s recollection of the accident is hazy, and Philadelphia Police Det. Joseph Knoll testified today that the engineer didn’t appear to know where he was when he first showed up to the hospital a few miles from the scene with a head wound. The National Transportation Safety Board found no evidence that Bostian was under the influence or using his cellphone before the derailment.

A federal judge in 2016 ordered Amtrak to pay $265 million to settle claims tied to the crash. Amtrak has also since installed speed controls on all of its tracks owned along the Northeast Corridor from Boston to D.C.

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