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Scholar: Choices ahead after order to arrest Amtrak engineer

Written by MaryClaire Dale/Associated Press | May 12, 2017 4:22 PM
amtrakaerialcrash.jpg

Photo by AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

(Philadelphia) -- Pennsylvania's attorney general has a wide range of options in responding to a judge's order to arrest the speeding Amtrak engineer involved in a deadly 2015 crash in Philadelphia, a law professor said Friday.

The state prosecutor could arrest engineer Brandon Bostian, seek to dismiss the case, appeal or ask the city judge to reconsider her ruling, Temple University law professor Jules Epstein said. Attorney General Josh Shapiro also could try to negotiate a plea or take as much time as he needs to evaluate the case, he said.

The judge's unusual order came just hours before the two-year deadline Friday to file charges in the May 12, 2015 crash.

Lawyers for the family of a New York woman killed in the crash obtained a private criminal complaint from a city judge after Philadelphia prosecutors this week announced they would not pursue charges. The family submitted an affidavit stating that Bostian was going more than twice the speed limit. Prosecutors, in response, said they had insufficient evidence of criminal intent or recklessness. Judge Marsha Neifield, president of the city's municipal court, signed the complaint.

Eight people were killed and about 200 injured when the train derailed on a curve as Bostian accelerated to 106 mph on a 50 mph curve. The National Transportation Safety Board concluded that Bostian, then 32, had lost "situational awareness" but was neither impaired nor distracted by a cellphone.

Bostian's lawyer has not returned messages this week about the case. His client now lives near Boston, according to Neifield's order.

Amtrak has taken responsibility for the crash and agreed to pay $265 million to settle claims filed by victims and their families. Philadelphia lawyers Thomas Kline and Robert Mongeluzzi, who helped negotiate the settlement, announced the judge's order late Thursday. Kline represents the family of the New York victim, Rachel Jacobs, a 39-year-old technology executive, wife and mother.

Bostian has a personal injury lawsuit pending against Amtrak. He said he was left disoriented or unconscious when something struck his train before it derailed. He had become aware, through radio traffic, that a nearby commuter train had been struck by a rock. However, the National Transportation Safety Board concluded that nothing struck his locomotive.

Each misdemeanor charges carries a maximum five-year sentence.

Epstein said private criminal complaints are often used in low-level crimes not witnessed by police or, sometimes, when charges are not filed for political reasons.

"The private complaint mechanism exists for cases where the police can't make an arrest and, arguably, for cases where they won't, but they should," Epstein said.

An earlier story appears below.

(Philadelphia) -- A law professor says Pennsylvania's attorney general has several choices in handling a judge's order to charge the speeding Amtrak engineer involved in a deadly crash.

Temple University professor Jules Epstein says the office could arrest engineer Brandon Bostian, seek to dismiss the case, appeal or ask the judge to reconsider her ruling.

Epstein says state Attorney General Josh Shapiro could also negotiate a plea or take time to evaluate the case.

The judge's unusual order came a day before Friday's two-year deadline to file charges in the May 12, 2015, crash that killed eight.

The family of a New York woman who was killed sought the criminal complaint after city prosecutors declined to press charges.

Federal investigators believe Bostian lost "situational awareness" but wasn't impaired or using a cellphone.

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