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 barreling into a curve at more than 100 miles per hour (160 km per hour), twice the speed limit.
In the latest revelation of circumstances surrounding the crash, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said the train had inexplicably sped up from about 70 mph to 100-plus mph in the last 65 seconds before the crash, according to video from the locomotive’s front-facing camera.
The NSTB on Wednesday disclosed that the engineer, identified as Brandon Bostian, 32, had fully engaged the train’s emergency braking system seconds before the wreck.
But his attorney, Robert Goggin, said Bostian was unable to recall hitting the brakes or much else about the derailment, which left a trail of twisted metal and human carnage along the tracks, and injured more than 200 people.
NTSB member Robert Sumwalt, updating reporters on the board’s probe into the cause of the wreck, said the engineer has agreed to be interviewed by agency investigators, who were giving him a day or two to recuperate from his injuries first, and that he was entitled to be accompanied by his lawyer.
“We look very much forward to the opportunity to interview him. We appreciate that opportunity. We feel that interview will provide us a lot of information,” Sumwalt said.
While Bostian recovered in seclusion, bits and pieces about his life started to surface. A University of Missouri graduate with a business degree, he has been 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.
But Yochana Mashat, 58, who lives on the same floor as Bostian described his neighbour 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.
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” programme.
Bostian, who suffered a concussion and gash to his head, does not recall 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.
Sumwalt said it was common for someone to suffer memory loss after a traumatic event.
In his briefing to reporters on Thursday, Sumwalt said a track inspection in that stretch of railroad the day before the crash turned up nothing unusual, and tests of the train’s brakes before it left Union Station in Washington on Tuesday likewise found no problems.
Contrary to speculation that the driver might have been running late, Sumwalt also said the train had departed its previous stop 10 minutes earlier on time.
While many questions about Tuesday’s wreck remain unanswered, Sumwalt has 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.
Litigation stemming from the wreck began on Thursday with the filing of a claim against Amtrak by an employee of the railway who said he was riding train No. 188 as a passenger and suffered a traumatic brain injury and other injuries. The lawsuit seeks more than $150,000 (95,129 pounds) in damages.
Additional reporting by Susan Heavey in Washington and Curtis Skinner in San Francisco; Writing by Frank McGurty and Steve Gorman; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe, Toni Reinhold, Lisa Shumaker and Ken Wills