A judge has dismissed all charges against the Amtrak engineer who was accused of criminal negligence in the tragic 2015 train crash in Philadelphia. Judge Thomas Gehret dropped the charges following a preliminary hearing, finding the crash was more likely the result of an accident than the result of criminal negligence. Officials filed charges against Brandon Bostian following the train crash that killed eight people and injured up to 200 others.
Why Did Amtrak 188 Derail?
According to a report from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), released in May 2016, Amtrak 188 was traveling at 106 miles per hour, more than double the limit of 50 miles per hour, when it derailed on a curve in Philadelphia.
The NTSB placed the blame on a loss of situational awareness by the train’s engineer, but also noted that positive train control (PTC) would have prevented the accident. Bostian, who was interviewed by NTSB investigators, was reported “very cooperative with investigators and did not appear to be impaired or using his cell phone.
“It’s widely understood that every person, no matter how conscientious and skilled, is fallible, which is why technology was developed to backstop human vulnerabilities,” said NTSB Chairman Christopher A. Hart. “Had positive train control been in place on that stretch of track, this entirely preventable tragedy would not have happened.”
Among other findings from the NTSB’s investigation:
- That if windows hadn’t failed some passengers who were ejected from the train would have survived the crash;
- That Bostian was distracted by an emergency involving a separate commuter train, causing him to lose situational awareness; and
- That the acceleration before the curve where the train derailed was consistent with Bostian’s belief he had passed the curve and was headed to a straight stretch.
Charges Against Amtrak Engineer Included Involuntary Manslaughter
Initially, Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams declined to press charges against Bostian. Williams found there was not enough evidence that Bostian either acted with criminal intent or was criminally responsible for the tragedy. Following the district attorney’s decision not to press charges, the family of one of the victims pushed to have charges filed against Bostian. Philadelphia Municipal Court President Judge Marsha Neifield agreed with the family that there was sufficient cause to order charges and referred the case to Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro.
Shapiro filed eight counts of involuntary manslaughter as well as charges of reckless endangerment and a count of causing or risking a catastrophe against Bostian.
Criminal Charges in Amtrak Train Crash Dismissed
Philadelphia Municipal Court Judge Thomas Gehret, however, dismissed all charges against Bostian, finding a lack of evidence that there was criminal negligence involved in the train crash.
“Based on that evidence,” Gehret said, “I think it’s more likely than not this was an accident and not criminal.”
Shaprio’s office has not said whether it will look for other ways to file charges against Bostian.
“We are carefully reviewing the judge’s decision, notes of testimony, and our prosecutorial responsibilities, in this case, going forward,” said Joe Grace, a spokesperson for the Attorney General’s office.
Victims Describe Scene Following Philadelphia Train Crash
During the preliminary hearing, which was held to determine if there was enough evidence to move ahead with the trial, victims from the accident testified about what happened during and after the derailment.
Blair Berman, who suffered broken bones, said the train was moving too fast around a curve.
“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,” Berman said.
Meanwhile, Philadelphia Police Detective Joseph Knoll told the court that Bostian appeared confused when he was taken to a nearby hospital, asking if he was in New York. Bostian has been on administrative leave without pay since the accident.
Wrongful Death Lawsuits Filed Following 2015 Train Wreck
Following the crash, lawsuits were filed by people who were injured and the families of those who died. Those lawsuits alleged Amtrak was responsible for the crash by not activating positive train control, which could have prevented the crash and saved lives. In 2016, Amtrak agreed to settle the lawsuits for $265 million.