PHILADELPHIA/NEW YORK (Reuters) - A portrait of the engineer at the helm of a speeding Amtrak train that derailed in Philadelphia began to emerge on Thursday as the man’s lawyer said his client could not remember the crash and rescuers pulled an eighth body from the wreckage.
With the engineer facing intense scrutiny over his role in the accident, Philadelphia police said they launched a criminal investigation into Tuesday’s crash of the New York-bound train. The locomotive and all seven cars jumped the tracks while barrelling into a curve at more than 100 miles per hour (160 km per hour), twice the speed limit.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said the engineer, identified as 32-year-old Brandon Bostian, triggered the emergency brakes seconds before the accident.
But his attorney, Robert Goggin, said Bostian has not been able to remember hitting the brakes or little else about the derailment, which left a trail of twisted metal and human carnage along the tracks, and injured more than 200 people.
NTSB officials said they have not yet interviewed the engineer and would give him time to recover from a concussion.
While Bostian recovers in seclusion, bits and pieces about his life have started to surface. A University of Missouri graduate with a business degree, he has worked as an engineer for more than four years after working with Amtrak as a conductor, according to his LinkedIn page. While in college, he worked in a Target Corp (TGT.N) store.
Bostian, who hails from Memphis, Tennessee, was described as quiet and unassuming by people who crossed his path in Forest Hills, a middle-class section of Queens where he resides.
Jose Quinones, 65, the superintendent of the large brick building where Bostian makes his home, said he was an easy-going tenant who had lived there for two or three years. While polite, Bostian mostly kept to himself, Quinones said.
He said he was shocked to learn Bostian was involved in the derailment. “I didn’t know he had that kind of job,” he said.
Three workers at the nearby Gloria Pizza shop said Bostian was a regular customer.
“He comes in once or twice a week and orders a slice,” said a man named Tony, who did not want to give his last name. “He’s a nice guy, polite.”
But Yochana Mashat, 58, who lives on the same floor as Bostian described his neighbor as standoffish.
He said he regularly rode the elevator with Bostian but never spoke to him. “He’s like a statue,” Mashat said.
Hours after the derailment, Bostian blacked out his Facebook Inc (FB.O) profile photo while dozens of his Facebook friends wrote comments, offering condolences and encouragement.
Efforts to reach Bostian’s relatives and social media connections were unsuccessful.
Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter said the engineer spoke briefly with investigators in the hours after the crash but declined to be interviewed in depth.
“I don’t think that any common sense, rational person would think that it was OK to travel at that level of speed knowing there was a pretty significant restriction on how fast you should go through that turn,” Nutter said, repeating an earlier comment about the engineer.
At a news briefing, Police Chief Inspector Joe Sullivan said his department was working with Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams on an investigation.
Bostian was cooperating with authorities, according to Goggin, his lawyer, but had no memory of the crash and no explanation for what happened.
“He remembers coming into the curve, he remembers attempting to reduce speed, but thereafter he was knocked out just like all the other passengers on the train,” Goggin said on ABC’s “Good Morning America” program.
Bostian, who suffered a concussion and gash to his head, does not remember deploying the emergency brakes, the lawyer said.
“We will have to wait for his memory to come back or for other facts to be ascertained by the NTSB,” the lawyer said.
Federal safety investigators want to talk to Bostian “as soon as he’s available,” said NTSB member Robert Sumwalt, adding it was common for someone to suffer memory loss after a traumatic event.
Sumwalt said the derailment could have been avoided by an advanced safety system called “positive train control” (PTC), which automatically slows or halts trains moving too fast or heading into a danger zone.
Amtrak said it aims to have the technology up and running between Washington and Boston by the end of the year, as required by law. For now, the rail line only has intermittent PTC service, an Amtrak official said.
Authorities have accounted for all 243 people, including five crew, believed to have been on the train when it crashed, the mayor said.
On Thursday morning, a cadaver dog found the body of a passenger in the twisted metal of the first car, Philadelphia Fire Commissioner Derrick Sawyer said.
The latest victim to be identified was Robert Gildersleeve, a 45-year-old executive at Ecolab, an environmental engineering company that made the announcement.
Gildersleeve’s 13-year-old son Marc headed up a highly publicized effort this week to find his father, passing out flyers outside a Philadelphia hotel. On Tuesday, his father had left the family’s home near Baltimore on a New York business trip aboard Amtrak.
Mayor Nutter said officials would release no information about the deceased, but seven of them, including Gildersleeve, have been identified by people who knew them.
Additional reporting by Susan Heavey in Washington; Writing by Frank McGurty; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe, Toni Reinhold and Lisa Shumaker