A Philadelphia judge has dismissed criminal charges against Brandon Bostian, the engineer operating the Amtrak train that derailed and killed eight people, injuring dozens more in the Port Richmond section of the city in 2015.
Judge Thomas Gehret dismissed the charges against Bostian at a hearing Tuesday, ruling that there wasn’t enough evidence to show a crime had been committed, the state Attorney General’s Office confirmed.
“The Amtrak crash was a tragedy and this case has a unique procedural history. We are carefully reviewing the judge’s decision, notes of testimony and our prosecutorial responsibilities in this case going forward,” Attorney General Josh Shapiro said in a statement Tuesday afternoon.
Bostian’s lawyer, Brian McMonagle, said the only possible explanation for the accident was that Bostian was distracted by a distress call from another train engineer whose train had been attacked by assailants throwing rocks. Bostian, according to McMonagle, then sped up to 110 miles per hour because he thought he had reached a high-speed zone.
“Today the judge came to the same conclusion that was reached by the District Attorney’s Office after investigation for two years; that this was an accident and not a crime,” McMonagle said.
The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office originally declined to pursue charges against Bostian. The office announced in May, “We have no evidence that the engineer acted with criminal ‘intent’ or criminal ‘knowledge’ within the special meaning of those terms under Pennsylvania law for purposes of criminal charges. Nor do we believe there is sufficient evidence to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, criminal recklessness, which would be the only other basis for criminal liability.”
However, Thomas Kline and Robert Mongeluzzi, the Philadelphia plaintiffs attorneys who handled the civil lawsuits related to the derailment, along with prominent Philadelphia attorney Richard Sprague, filed two private criminal complaints on behalf of the victims’ families.
The next day, Municipal Court President Judge Marsha Neifield ordered the District Attorney’s Office to bring charges, but that office ultimately referred the matter to the Attorney General’s Office, which filed charges against Bostian just before the statute of limitations ran out.
Reached Tuesday, Kline said in an email that the “families of those who [died] and victims who sustained catastrophic and other injuries are disheartened by the ruling today, and are hopeful that the attorney general will promptly re-file charges to hold accountable the individual who caused this monumental catastrophe.”
Mongeluzzi added in a separate email, “The result of today’s ruling is that justice for the victims of derailed Amtrak train 188 has been derailed again. These victims are deeply disappointed with this latest ruling, which would allow Mr. Bostian to dodge accountability for his actions. On behalf of the victims of Amtrak 188, we urge the attorney general to fight for these victims and reinstate the charges.”
In February 2016, the NTSB released 2,000 pages of documents on the May 12, 2015, derailment, some of which detailed agency interviews with Bostian.
In a May 2015 interview, Bostian said his memory was blank after passing train platforms in North Philadelphia after leaving 30th Street Station—the next thing he remembered was coming to in the cab of the train after the accident. In a November 2015 interview, he recalled that he “may have” accelerated to 80 mph coming up to the curve where the train derailed in the Port Richmond section of the city—although he said he wasn’t sure whether that was on the night of the accident—stating, “I remember feeling as though I was going too fast around the curve.”
The derailment resulted in a federal multidistrict litigation against Amtrak, with the rail carrier admitting liability and ultimately agreeing to a $265 million settlement.
U.S. District Judge Legrome Davis of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania approved the settlement in the Amtrak multidistrict litigation Oct. 27, 2016, which reflects the “present value” of the federally capped $295 million damages limit Amtrak can be liable for.
Davis reasoned in his order that the settlement amount was the current equivalent of the cap “given the potential for years of protracted litigation before money can be distributed.”