In May 2015, over four years ago, Amtrak locomotive engineer Brandon Bostian, piloting Amtrak train number 188, a Northeast Regional train, lost “situational awareness,” according to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), as he headed north from a stop at Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station.
Bostian’s train was traveling at 106 m.p.h. as it entered a 50 m.p.h. curve at Frankford Junction, just north of 30th Street Station, and derailed, killing eight people and injuring over 200. Amtrak agreed to pay up to $265 million to accident victims and their families. This is among the largest settlements related to a rail accident in United States history.
Just prior to the crash, a nearby SEPTA train had stopped, with its engineer reporting that someone had thrown an object at his windshield, which shattered, and the SEPTA engineer requested medical assistance from the dispatcher. Bostian heard this radio discussion between the SEPTA engineer and the dispatcher, and the NTSB investigative team said this distraction may have caused Bostian to lose situational awareness, resulting in his not realizing that he was about to enter the 50 m.p.h. curve at 106 m.p.h.
In May 2017, two years after the accident, prosecutors said Bostian would not face any criminal charges stemming from the accident. Roughly two weeks after this decision, a Philadelphia Municipal Court judge ordered prosecutors to charge Bostian with involuntary manslaughter, reckless endangerment, and causing a catastrophe. In September 2017, another Philadelphia Municipal Court judge dropped the charges against Bostian, ruling the crash was, essentially, an accident. Then, in February 2018, after an appeal of this ruling by the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office, a judge on the Philadelphia Common Pleas Court, reinstated all criminal charges against Bostian.
According to the New York Times, another judge on the Philadelphia Common Pleas Court dismissed the criminal charges against Bostian on Tuesday, July 23, 2019. The state attorney general then said they would appeal this decision.
Judge Barbara McDermott, in dismissing the charges on Tuesday, said that Mr. Bostian’s mistakes were not criminal. According to the Associated Press, the judge said “The law recognizes we’re all human.”
Brian McMonagle, Bostian’s lawyer, said that “A mistake is never the basis for charging someone with a crime; otherwise, every doctor who commits malpractice would be charged with a crime.” McMonagle also said the judge’s dismissal on Tuesday was the result of motions he filed that cited new decisions in similar cases.
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