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Prosecutors face tough choices in NYC derailment

December 5, 2013 • National News


FILE – In this file photo taken on Sunday, Dec. 1, 2013, Metro North Railroad engineer William Rockefeller is wheeled on a stretcher away from the area where the commuter train he was operating derailed in the Bronx borough of New York. The engineer driving the commuter train that went off the rails in New York City last weekend has been suspended without pay according to a spokesman for Metro-North Railroad Thursday Dec. 5, 2013. (AP Photo/Robert Stolarik, File)

NEW YORK (AP) — While the Metro-North Railroad is already getting hit with multimillion-dollar civil claims over a deadly commuter train derailment, prosecutors will face tough choices when deciding whether to bring criminal charges against the train’s engineer, who told investigators he nodded or fell into a daze at the controls.

Legal experts say drowsy driving isn’t necessarily a crime, and it can be tough to prosecute drivers who nod off unless there are extra factors at play, such as drug use or brazen disregard for passenger safety. The prosecutor’s office investigating the engineer recently failed to convict a bus driver of manslaughter in a 2011 crash that killed more than a dozen passengers, in part because his drowsiness wasn’t accompanied by any such factors.

“There’s a sentiment that when something terrible happens, you have to hold someone accountable criminally — that’s not always the case,” said attorney Andrew Abramson, who represented a Staten Island Ferry pilot sentenced to 18 months in prison following a deadly wreck in 2003. “Sometimes there is a tragedy, and it’s really a matter for the civil courts.”

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