PHILADELPHIA - A Philadelphia judge will let a jury weigh criminal charges against an Amtrak engineer charged in a deadly 2015 derailment — although she expressed skepticism that the trial evidence this past week supports the charges.
The on-again, off-again case against engineer Brandon Bostian, 38, could go to a jury Thursday afternoon. The charges include causing a catastrophe, involuntary manslaughter and reckless endangerment.
Eight people died and more than 200 people were injured when the train rounded a curve at more than twice the speed limit and derailed.
In court Thursday, Common Pleas Court Judge Barbara McDermott said she was reserving judgment on whether or not the evidence was sufficient to prove the crimes charged. The city’s district attorney had declined to charge Bostian, but the state Attorney General’s Office stepped in after the victims’ families had pressed for charges.
"If we're going to call this a crime, it transforms criminal law," defense lawyer Brian McMonagle argued Thursday.
Brandon Bostian (R) faces charges including causing a catastrophe, involuntary manslaughter and reckless endangerment in the deadly derailment.
McDermott said she may review the sufficiency of the evidence again after the jury verdict. The jury was set to hear closing arguments Thursday afternoon.
Both sides largely agree on the facts of the case, but differ on whether they amount to a crime or a tragic mistake. The defense insists that Bostian was distracted by radio reports that a nearby commuter train had been struck by rocks.
Bostian told federal investigators that he was concerned for that driver's safety because an engineer friend had lost an eye from similar rock-throwing.
He said he recalled being only "slightly″ concerned about his own safety. Investigators say there is no evidence he was impaired or using his cellphone at the time.
Federal safety investigators concluded that Bostian lost what they call "situational awareness" on the track. Thinking he was on a long straightaway, Bostian accelerated the train, they concluded. The train was actually approaching a sharp curve.
A defense expert on Thursday listed several other train crashes where investigators reached a similar conclusion.
Amtrak has taken responsibility for the crash and agreed to pay $265 million to settle claims filed by victims and their families. It has also installed speed controls on all its track from Boston to Washington.