Lawyer: Amtrak engineer doesn’t remember deadly derailment

Amtrak engineer Brandon Bostian and wreckage
Courtesy: LinkedIn/AP

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The engineer at the controls of the speeding Amtrak train that lurched off the tracks in Philadelphia, killing at least seven people, has no recollection of the crash, his attorney said.

Lawyer Robert Goggin told ABC News that the engineer, Brandon Bostian, 32, of New York, suffered a concussion in Tuesday night’s wreck and had 15 staples in his head.

Federal investigators have determined that the train was barreling through the city at 106 mph before it ran off the rails along a sharp curve where the speed limit drops to just 50 mph. But they don’t know why it was going so fast.

“He remembers coming into curve. He remembers attempting to reduce speed and thereafter he was knocked out,” Goggin said. He said Bostian does not recall using the emergency brake, which investigators said was applied moments before the crash.

Amtrak engineer Brandon Bostian
Amtrak assistant conductor, Brandon Bostian stands by as Sandra Palmer, center, says goodbye to her boyfriend, Clyde Simpson, before he boards the train at the Amtrak station in St. Louis. (Huy Richard Mach/St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP)

The lawyer said the last thing the engineer remembered was coming to, looking for his bag, retrieving his cellphone and calling 911 for help. He said the engineer’s cellphone was off and stored in his bag before the accident, as required.

“As a result of his concussion, he has absolutely no recollection whatsoever of the events,” Goggin said. He said he believes the engineer’s memory will probably return once the head injury subsides.

Goggin said that his client “cooperated fully” with police and immediately consented to a blood test. He said he had not been drinking or doing drugs. Police had said on Wednesday that the engineer had refused to give a statement to law enforcement.

Robert Sumwalt of the National Transportation Safety Board said on Wednesday that federal accident investigators want to talk to him but will give him a day or two to recover from the shock of the accident.

Goggin said his client was distraught when he learned of the devastation.

Sumwalt said a data recorder and a video camera in the train’s front end could yield clues to what happened. Amtrak inspected the stretch of track on Tuesday, just hours before the accident, and found no defects, according to the Federal Railroad Administration.

Sumwalt said the engineer applied the emergency brakes moments before the crash but slowed the train to only 102 mph by the time the locomotive’s black box stopped recording data. The speed limit just before the bend is 80 mph, he said.

Mayor Michael Nutter said the engineer was clearly “reckless and irresponsible.”

“Part of the focus has to be, what was the engineer doing?” Nutter said. “Why are you traveling at that rate of speed?”

More than 200 people aboard the Washington-to-New York train were injured in the wreck, which happened in a decayed industrial neighborhood not far from the Delaware River just before 9:30 p.m.

PHOTOS: 7 dead, hundreds injured in train derailment

Passengers crawled out the windows of the torn and toppled rail cars in the darkness and emerged dazed and bloody. Many of the victims had broken ribs and other fractures. At least 10 people remained hospitalized in critical condition on Wednesday.

It was the nation’s deadliest train accident in nearly six years. There is no Amtrak service between Philadelphia and New York again on Thursday.

Despite pressure from Congress and safety regulators, Amtrak had not installed along that section of track Positive Train Control, a technology that uses GPS, wireless radio and computers to prevent trains from going over the speed limit. Most of Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor is equipped with Positive Train Control.

“Based on what we know right now, we feel that had such a system been installed in this section of track, this accident would not have occurred,” Sumwalt said.

The notoriously tight curve is not far from the site of one of the deadliest train wrecks in U.S. history: the 1943 derailment of the Congressional Limited, bound from Washington to New York. Seventy-nine people were killed.

The dead in Tuesday’s crash included an Associated Press employee, a midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy, a Wells Fargo executive, a college administrator and the CEO of an educational startup.

Nutter said some people were unaccounted for but cautioned that some passengers listed on the Amtrak manifest might not have boarded the train, while others might not have checked in with authorities.

“We will not cease our efforts until we go through every vehicle,” the mayor said.

Amtrak carries 11.6 million passengers a year along its busy Northeast Corridor, which runs between Washington and Boston.

Associated Press reporters Maryclaire Dale, Michael R. Sisak and Josh Cornfield in Philadelphia and Jack Gillum, Ted Bridis and Joan Lowy in Washington contributed to this story.

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