2015 Amtrak trial opened with dueling visions of engineer before crash

Brandon Bostian didn’t do his job – and people died and got hurt as a result.

Prosecutors say it’s the simple fact they will prove at Bostian’s trial in the coming days: that Bostian, an Amtrak engineer perfectly trained to run a train along the Northeast Corridor, failed in his duty. essential to direct the 188 train safely from the 30th Street station in New York City on May 12, 2015.

That night, Senior Deputy Attorney General Christopher Phillips told jurors during opening arguments Friday that Bostian accelerated to double the speed limit before a corner in Frankford. And as a result of that act – which Phillips said was clearly negligence – the seven-car train derailed, killing eight and injuring more than 200, and creating a disaster unprecedented in the city’s recent history. .

“The law recognizes that sometimes, even in an accident, our driving is so reckless, so grossly negligent, that it becomes a crime,” Phillips said. “That’s what this business is.”

But Bostian’s attorney, Brian McMonagle, told jurors that if anyone committed a crime that night, it wasn’t Bostian.

As Bostian pulled off 30th Street, McMonagle said, a SEPTA train a few minutes further down the tracks was “attacked.” People had thrown rocks at that train, McMonagle said, shattering its windshield and causing an emergency stop. The SEPTA engineer reported the situation over the radio, McMonagle said, confusing Bostian and causing him to lose his bearings.

The result was that Bostian, an otherwise conscientious engineer with a remarkable history, made an honest mistake, McMonagle said. He was not negligent, McMonagle said – he was reacting to the behavior of never-identified “criminals” who decided to endanger moving trains by throwing rocks at them.

“At the end of this case, you’re going to realize it was a terrible accident caused by someone else,” McMonagle said. “And not a crime of [Bostian].”

The opening salvos kicked off testimony in Bostian’s trial, a case that could send the 38-year-old former engineer to jail – or clear his name of foul play after a long and unusual ordeal. .

Bostian faces eight counts of manslaughter, more than 200 counts of reckless endangerment and a charge of causing a disaster, a felony.

On Thursday, just before a jury of eight women and four men was selected, Bostian rejected a plea offer that could have spared him years behind bars. Common Pleas Court Judge Barbara McDermott told Bostian that prosecutors would have allowed him to plead “no contest” to nine counts of reckless endangerment, but Bostian decided to take the case to a jury.

Prosecutors did not specify what sentence they might seek if convicted, but McDermott said Bostian faces potential jail time if the panel finds him guilty.

His case took an unusual route to trial: it has already been thrown out twice by judges, each of whom said Bostian’s conduct was not criminal. But the attorney general’s office successfully appealed those rulings to revive the case.

During his opening argument on Friday, Phillips, the prosecutor, sought to bolster his case by telling jurors that Bostian told passenger Blair Berman they were at Frankford Curve after the crash – evidence, Phillips said Bostian was not disoriented, although he later asked police if he was in New York.

Phillips also testified that Bostian drove the train within speed limits until shortly before the crash, which Phillips said demonstrated that Bostian was not confused while driving the train.

But McMonagle cited that same safe-travel record as evidence that Bostian was clearly baffled by the rock-throwing reports. And he pointed out that National Transportation Safety Board investigators later found that Bostian was not intoxicated or using his cell phone before the crash.

The testimony opened with accounts from three Philadelphia crime scene officers, a bomb squad investigator – who had searched the crash site to make sure he didn’t was not a terrorist attack – and an assistant medical examiner, who reviewed the autopsy reports of the deceased victims.

Berman took the witness stand and said she could not remember the moment of impact. But she described having to crawl under several people in pitch darkness after the derailment, finding a tree branch to pull herself up on due to injuries she sustained to her right side.

She then had a chance encounter with Bostian, she said, and used his phone to call her father because his had been lost in the crash.

She said Bostian did not identify himself as an Amtrak employee, but told Berman they were at Frankford Junction. When her call was over, she said, Bostian left.

“I just waited for help,” Berman said.

Family members and supporters of Bostian and some of the victims in the case were spread across two courtrooms on Friday to watch a live broadcast of the proceedings. Due to pandemic restrictions, the courtroom itself was limited to lawyers, witnesses and jurors.

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