Engineer in Amtrak derailment seeks dismissal of charges

An Amtrak engineer facing prosecution in the fatal 2015 train derailment in Philadelphia sought Friday to have the charges against him dismissed.

A motion filed Friday focused on the legal reversal that took place in May, after the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office declined to press charges against engineer Brandon Bostian for his part in the derailment that killed eight passengers and seriously injured many others.

A flurry of legal maneuvering followed, and just days after the district attorney concluded there was not enough evidence to charge Bostian, the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office made the opposite determination, filing charges for eight counts of involuntary manslaughter; a count of causing a catastrophe; and numerous counts of reckless endangerment.

Bostian was denied due process as a result, his lawyer, Brian J. McMonagle, argued in the motion.

“Good prosecutors who took an oath to seek justice concluded that it would be an injustice to prosecute a good man who had no criminal intent and who committed no crime,” McMonagle said in a statement. “These charges were orchestrated by powerful personal injury lawyers….period.”

The decision to override the district attorney was prompted by a request for criminal charges filed by the family of a woman killed on the train. One of the family’s attorneys, Thomas R. Kline, said he sought charges against Bostian because his client believed Bostian should be held responsible. Kline noted that the financial liability surrounding the case had been resolved before he sought charges. Amtrak agreed to a $295 million settlement for victims within months of the crash.

“The private civil complaint was filed well after the presentation of damages in the civil case and had nothing to do with the civil case,” Kline said. “This has nothing to do with personal injury lawyers and nothing to do with anything being orchestrated.”

Another lawyer who sought a complaint against Bostian, Robert J. Mongeluzzi, said the facts of the case warranted criminal charges.

“The victims that we have represented have wanted justice all around,” he said. “That includes issues regarding civil justice, but from the very beginning many of these clients wanted justice through the criminal system as well.”

The state attorney general became involved after Municipal Court Judge Marsha Neifield ordered the District Attorney’s Office to reverse its decision and charge Bostian. To avoid a potential conflict of interest, the District Attorney’s Office responded that it would refer the prosecution to the attorney general.

Neifield made her decision without providing evidence that the District Attorney’s Office had acted in bad faith in declining to charge the engineer, McMonagle argued. He noted that the conclusion that no criminality occurred came after nearly two years of investigation by homicide prosecutors who consulted with Amtrak officials, Philadelphia police, and train experts, and relied heavily on the results of the National Transportation Safety Board’s year-long investigation.

A prosecutor should have wide latitude to make decisions about when criminal charges are appropriate, McMonagle argued in the motion. Without providing evidence that the District Attorney’s Office came to its conclusions illegally or in bad faith, Neifield should not have overruled the office’s decision, the motion stated.

Neifield declined to comment on the motion.

“We can’t comment on an ongoing criminal matter,” said Joe Grace, a spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office. “We’ll continue seeking justice in court for the victims of Amtrak Train 188.”

The charges in May were filed just before the two-year statute of limitations expired for a reckless-endangerment charge.

Bostian has been free on bail since the charges were filed. After the derailment he moved from New York City to Somerville, Mass., and has declined repeated requests for interviews.

On May 12, 2015, Bostian drove a seven-car train off the tracks at the Frankford Curve. Bostian accelerated Train 188 to 106 mph, more than twice the speed posted, as it approached the curve north of 30th Street Station, according to findings by the NTSB.

The federal investigation concluded he had no alcohol or drugs in his system, and was not using his cellphone. Bostian told the NTSB he did not remember what had happened.

Legal experts have said it is unusual for a judge to override a prosecutor’s decision on how to proceed with a case, but Pennsylvania law does support the possibility of it.

Bostian is scheduled to appear in Common Pleas Court Sept. 12. A decision on the motion to dismiss could come at that time, McMonagle said.