MARYCLAIRE DALE, Associated Press
FILE- In this Wednesday, May 13, 2015, file photo, emergency personnel work at the scene of a derailment in Philadelphia of an Amtrak train headed to New York. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — An Amtrak engineer was cleared of charges related to a deadly, high-speed derailment that left eight people dead and hundreds injured in Philadelphia in 2015.
The jury acquitted 38-year-old engineer Brandon Bostian of causing a catastrophe, involuntary manslaughter and reckless endangerment after a little more than an hour of deliberations.
Eight people died and more than 200 people were injured when the train rounded a curve at more than twice the speed limit and derailed in north Philadelphia. Amtrak agreed to pay $265 million in civil settlements to victims and their families.
Bostian’s lawyer described him as a lifelong train buff who had a perfect work record until he was distracted by people throwing rocks in the area just before the crash. Prosecutors say he acted with reckless disregard for the safety of his passengers, who were traveling from Washington to New York that Tuesday evening. The train had stopped at Philadelphia’s 30th Street station about 10 minutes earlier and was heading north.
Federal safety investigators concluded that Bostian lost what they call “situational awareness” on the track, thinking he was past an S-curve and on a straightaway when he accelerated from about 65 mph to 106 mph. In fact, he was in the middle of the S-curve, and going more than twice the speed limit. Investigators found no evidence he was impaired or using his cellphone at the time.
Amtrak settled the civil litigation with victims and their families in 2016 for $265 million, a new, higher limit set by Congress after the crash. The criminal case had a more unusual history.
Philadelphia’s top prosecutor declined to pursue criminal charges after the National Transportation and Safety Board released its findings. The state Attorney General’s Office later took the case to trial, after some victims’ families pressed for charges.
The jury had begun weighing the charges Friday morning when the judge announced around noon that an alternate would step in. The jury then began its deliberations from the start.
The jury had to decide whether Bostian sped up intentionally, knowing the risks — the threshold required for criminal negligence.
Common Pleas Judge Barbara McDermott said the juror whose sister died Thursday night came to court Friday and began deliberations before asking to be relieved.