Judge Clears Amtrak Engineer on Deadly Crash

Brandon Bostian, left, accompanied by defense attorney Brian McMonagle departs the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia, on Sept. 12, 2017. Bostian was the engineer in a 2015 Amtrak derailment in Philadelphia that killed eight people but a judge has dismissed criminal charges. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

PHILADELPHIA (CN) — An Amtrak engineer whose high-speed operation of a commuter train caused a deadly derailment in 2015 should not face criminal charges, a Philadelphia judge ruled Tuesday.

Accused of going more than twice as fast as the posted speed limit while accelerating a New York-bound train around a curve, Brandon Bostian was arrested on charges of involuntary manslaughter and reckless endangerment in May 2017 — nearly two years to the day after the derailment that injured almost 200 passengers and killed eight.

At the urging of the family of a passenger killed in the crash, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shaprio brought charges against Bostian in city court after the District Attorney’s Office declined to prosecute.

An investigation of the crash completed by the National Transportation Safety Board last year found no support for accusations that Bostian had been impaired or using a personal tablet at the time of the crash.

The report attributed Bostian’s acceleration to 106 mph around the curve to a “loss of situational awareness, likely because his attention was diverted to an emergency situation with another train.”

Finding that the evidence pointed to an accident not negligence, Judge Thomas Gehret dismissed the charges at a four-hour hearing Wednesday.

Blair Berman, a passenger who survived a deadly Amtrak crash in Philadelphia more than two years ago, walks from the Criminal Justice Center after she testified at a preliminary hearing for Brandon Bostian, the Amtrak engineer who faced criminal charges in the derailment, on Sept. 12, 2017, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Bostian, who has been out on bail following his May arrest, hugged his lawyer when the ruling was announced, according.

Philadelphia defense attorney Brian McMonagle praised the verdict and again emphasized his client’s innocence in a post-hearing statement.

“Obviously this is a terrible, terrible tragedy, but today there was justice,” McMonagle said. “Brandon Bostian is a good man. His heart breaks for the loss of life in this case and the tragedy that occurred. But he’s innocent of any criminal charges.”

Thomas Kline of personal injury firm Kline & Specter issued a statement as well on behalf of the family of one of the crash victims, Rachel Jacobs.

“The sad tragedy here is that there’s been no accountability despite the enormity of the loss,” Kline said. “There’s absolutely no individual accountability, and that’s where the victims believe there’s a lack of juncture between the law and reality.”

In this May 13, 2015, file photo, emergency personnel work at the scene of a derailment in Philadelphia of an Amtrak train headed to New York. Train engineer Brandon Bostian was charged in connection to the fatal crash but a judge dismissed the case at a Sept. 12, 2017, preliminary hearing. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

The accident scene was described as horrifying in public statements made by witnesses in its immediate wake, who spoke to the Associated Press and Philadelphia Inquirer about piles of twisted metal from mangled train cars and victims lying in the woods amid accident wreckage.

NTSB investigators found Amtrak to blame in part for the crash as well, citing the lack of “positive train control” that could have mechanically enforced the 50 mph speed limit going around the curve that Bostian took too fast.

The train’s windows were also of inadequate strength to protect them from shattering and keep passengers from being ejected in a crash, the NTSB report found.

Bostian sued Amtrak in January in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas for negligently failing to provide him with safe working conditions.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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