Pennsylvania AG will still seek charges against Amtrak derailment engineer

The pursuit of criminal charges against the engineer who derailed an Amtrak train in Philadelphia in 2015 will continue, as Pennsylvania’s attorney general reported he was appealing a municipal court judge’s decision last month to dismiss charges.

Attorney General Josh Shapiro said Tuesday that he had filed a notice of appeal. The filing with Common Pleas Court comes just before an appeal deadline would have expired. A hearing has not been scheduled.
The lawyer who handled Bostian’s criminal case, Brian J. McMonagle, emphasized that in the last six months both the Philadelphia district attorney and the municipal judge concluded that Bostian committed no crime.

“Enough is enough,” he said of the appeal filing. “It’s wrong.”

On Sept. 12, charges against engineer Brandon Bostian of involuntary manslaughter, reckless endangerment, and risking a catastrophe were dismissed by Municipal Court Judge Thomas Gehret. The judge said at the conclusion of a four-hour hearing that there was not enough evidence to warrant a trial.

“Based on that evidence,” Gehret said at the time, “I think it’s more likely than not this was an accident and not criminal.”

The May 12, 2015, crash of Amtrak Train 188 on the Frankford Curve in Port Richmond caused eight deaths and more than 100 injuries.

The basis of the state’s case against Bostian in that September hearing was that he knew his route well and knew his responsibility for the 250 passengers on the train but still sped at 106 mph into a bend with a 50 mph limit, causing the derailment.

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 has been on unpaid administrative leave from his Amtrak position since the crash.

The case has taken an unusual roller coaster ride through the criminal justice system. In May, nearly two years after the derailment, the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office stated that it had reviewed the evidence and decided against charging Bostian.

Quickly thereafter, the father and husband of Rachel Jacobs, who died in the derailment, filed a reckless endangerment complaint against Bostian. Saying it had made its decision, the District Attorney’s Office rejected the complaint, leading the family to seek a judge’s order compelling authorities to charge. The District Attorney’s Office recused itself, leading to the attorney general’s involvement in the case.

Just days after the district attorney concluded there was not enough evidence to charge Bostian, the Attorney General’s Office made the opposite determination, filing charges for eight counts of involuntary manslaughter, a count of causing a catastrophe, and 238 counts of reckless endangerment.

The swings in the case have been difficult for the people affected by the crash. Many have wanted to see Bostian held criminally accountable. Along with the complaint filed by Jacobs’ family, derailment survivor Blair Berman participated in the last hearing, providing testimony about her experience the night of the crash.

“It is welcome news that the attorney general has decided to further pursue full accountability of Mr. Bostian, which they, as victims,  have all urged throughout the criminal justice process,” said lawyers Thomas Kline and Bob Mongeluzzi in a statement, who represent some of the derailment victims.

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