Attorneys for an openly gay train engineer, who potentially faces criminal charges for his role in a deadly Amtrak train derailment in Philadelphia, continue to proclaim his innocence.
Eight people were killed and numerous others were injured in May 2015 when an Amtrak train operated by Brandon Bostian, 34, derailed at Frankford Junction.
State prosecutors want to charge Bostian with one count of risking a catastrophe, eight counts of involuntary manslaughter and 246 counts of reckless endangerment.
But in a recent defense filing, attorneys for Bostian maintained he was distracted by projectiles thrown at a nearby SEPTA train around the time of the derailment.
According to the defense filing, “the fact that Mr. Bostian may have lost awareness while driving his train through a crime scene — thereby regrettably causing a serious derailment and loss of life — does not somehow transform this tragic accident into a criminal act. Mr. Bostian lost awareness in the midst of an emergency situation that was not of his making.”
In the Dec. 5 filing, Bostian’s attorneys also contend that an unknown person or people “assaulted” an engineer of the SEPTA train around the time of the Amtrak derailment.
“[T]his accident occurred only after an emergency where another train was being attacked by projectiles, during which an engineer was assaulted,” the attorneys wrote. “[Bostian] was careful and prudent in the operation of his train for a period of hours [before the derailment]. [H]e had a momentary lapse in judgment after being confronted by an unforeseen emergency at night.”
In addition, they wrote: “Train engineers and pilots are not infallible and sometimes they make mistakes in the midst of emergencies. Human error is not a crime — especially when it occurs under duress.
“This was an accident that would not have occurred but for the criminal conduct of criminals who were terrorizing the passenger trains that were coming into Philadelphia. The train operators who drive into this line of fire should not and must not be criminally prosecuted for this tragedy.”
Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge Kathryn S. Lewis is expected to render a decision Feb. 6 on whether criminal charges against Bostian are permissible. In September, a Philadelphia Municipal Court judge said they weren’t.
Bostian, of Somerville, Mass., appeared at a court proceeding Dec. 20 and is expected to attend the Feb. 6 proceeding.
In court papers, state prosecutors said the SEPTA incident Bostian’s attorneys cited doesn’t excuse his alleged criminal conduct. They contend he should have oriented himself to his surroundings before manually increasing the throttle to 106 miles per hour at Frankford Junction, adding the train would likely have derailed if it were traveling 98 mph.
“A reasonable, prudent engineer would not have accelerated the train to such a speed without being absolutely certain that he was traveling the permissible speed for the location,” prosecutors stated in the filing.
“[Bostian] exhibited a complete lack of vigilance where he ignored or failed to recognize numerous physical reference points that he was required to memorize in order to prevent the very type of catastrophe that occurred. When a train engineer fails to adhere to the applicable speed restrictions, disaster is virtually certain.”
Jeffrey P. Goodman, an attorney for 24 victims of the derailment, issued this statement: “Our clients believe that all of the victims of the devastating 2015 Philadelphia Amtrak Train No. 188 derailment — and their loved ones — deserve the full measure of justice. This extends beyond the civil litigation, and means a Pennsylvania jury should also be able to hear the criminal charges against the engineer of the train that was excessively speeding and violently derailed. The fatal derailment of the speeding Amtrak train — going nearly three times the legal limit near Tacoma, Wash. — last week underscores the need to ensure that all those responsible for such catastrophes are held completely accountable through our justice system.”