No decision on charges against Amtrak engineer in 2015 Philly derailment

Former Amtrak engineer Brandon Bostian walks out of the Criminal Justice Center on Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2017. Prosecutors’ attempt to reinstate charges against him for the 2015 train derailment that killed eight people.

It will be 2018 before a judge decides whether the Amtrak engineer whose actions derailed a train in Philadelphia more than two years ago will face criminal charges. Eight people died and more than 150 were injured in the May 12, 2015, crash.

Common Pleas Court Judge Kathryn Lewis said Wednesday that she wanted more time to review an appeal from the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office that seeks to reverse a judge’s September decision to dismiss charges against Brandon Bostian. The next hearing is scheduled for Feb. 6.

In court Wednesday, the engineer declined to comment. Lewis rejected a motion from Bostian’s attorney, Brian McMonagle, to dismiss the attorney general’s appeal. That appeal, filed Oct. 10, is the sole route remaining for the state to pursue charges against Bostian, Lewis said at the hearing. The statute of limitations has expired on the offenses previously filed against the engineer.

Bostian drove the seven-car Amtrak Train 188 that derailed at the Frankford Curve in Port Richmond. The train was traveling 106 mph — more than twice the speed posted — as it approached the curve, according to findings by the National Transportation Safety Board.

The federal investigation concluded that Bostian had no alcohol or drugs in his system and was not using his cellphone at the time of the derailment. Bostian told the NTSB that he did not remember what had happened. The federal agency’s review concluded that he lost “situational awareness,” probably because of radio chatter about a rock hitting a SEPTA train near the curve shortly before the derailment.

Bostian was charged in May with eight counts of involuntary manslaughter, one count of causing or risking a catastrophe, and 238 counts of reckless endangerment.

In September, Municipal Court Judge Thomas Gehret dismissed all counts against Bostian after a four-hour hearing that centered on what responsibility the engineer should bear for the crash.

In the months following the derailment, the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office was silent on whether he would be charged, saying only that there was an ongoing investigation. On May 9, the office said there was not enough evidence to support charges against the engineer. In the following days, civil attorneys representing victims of the derailment pursued another route to charges.

The district attorney rejected a criminal complaint brought by the father and husband of Rachel Jacobs, who died in the derailment, so the family went to court to obtain an order requiring the office to charge Bostian. After an order was issued, the District Attorney’s Office recused itself because it had already declined to press charges, and state prosecutors stepped in.

Bostian remains an Amtrak employee on unpaid administrative leave.