Lawyers ask DA to reverse course on Amtrak crash charges

Amtrak Crash Philadelphia
Emergency personnel work near the wreckage of a New York City-bound Amtrak passenger train following a derailment that killed eight people and injured about 200 others in Philadelphia in May 2015.

Plaintiffs lawyers Thomas R. Kline and Robert Mongeluzzi urged the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office on Wednesday to reverse course and criminally charge the Amtrak engineer who was at the controls when his train derailed in the Port Richmond section of the city May 12, 2015, claiming eight lives and injuring hundreds.

In a brief meeting with acting First Assistant District Attorney Kathleen Martin, Kline and Mongeluzzi asked that the office accept a criminal complaint from the father and husband of crash victim Rachel Jacobs, charging engineer Brandon Bostian with involuntary manslaughter and reckless endangerment.

Kline said he anticipates, based on his conversation with Martin, that office will decline the criminal complaint. If it is rejected, Kline said, he and Mongeluzzi will seek a Court of Common Pleas order Thursday compelling the District Attorney’s Office to reopen its investigation, or to appoint a private prosecutor.

“An aggrieved citizen is entitled to a voice in the process,” Kline said. “We are asking the DA to charge [Bostian]. They either will or they won’t. A denial will trigger a procedure where we will go to court to ask for a private prosecutor.”

Between them, Kline and Mongeluzzi, joined by Richard A. Sprague, represented 32 of the more than 150 people injured in the crash in litigation against Amtrak. Those cases were settled Oct. 27 in an agreement in which Amtrak will pay $265 million to victims. The agreement calls for two court-appointed special masters to parcel out the funds.

The Philadelphia District Attorney's Office announced Tuesday that it was closing a nearly two-year review of the crash and would not file any criminal charges against Bostian.

The statute of limitations for a possible charge, reckless endangerment, will  expire on Friday, the two-year anniversary of the derailment.

Bostian accelerated Amtrak Train 188 to 106 mph, more than twice the speed posted for that stretch of track, according to findings by the National Transportation Safety Board.

The DA's office said there was no evidence to prove Bostian knowingly disregarded a "substantial and unjustified risk," a standard that a prosecutor would have to meet to obtain a conviction for criminal recklessness. 

Some legal experts have said that proving reckless endangerment requires that a prosecutor show "gross deviation" from normal behavior under the circumstances, something Bostian’s actions didn’t demonstrate. Kline disagrees with the analysis that criminal charges are not supported by the law, saying that authorities need only establish that a suspect acted in a grossly negligent manner to sustain involuntary manslaughter charges.

Bostian had no drugs or alcohol in his system and was not distracted by a cellphone, according to the NTSB. The federal agency concluded that he lost "situational awareness," probably because of radio chatter about a rock hitting a SEPTA train near the Frankford Curve shortly before the derailment.

Bostian told federal investigators he did not remember why he accelerated the train when he did.

Amtrak has taken responsibility for the crash and has since installed an automatic braking system on its Northeast Corridor rails that would have prevented the derailment.

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