Willam “Bill” Rockefeller, 45, has been named by a Metro North spokesperson as the train engineer in the fatal crash that occurred in The Bronx on December 1, reports The Daily News.
The horrific crash killed four passengers and injured 63 more, 11 of them critically. Those killed have been named as James Lovell, 58, Donna Smith, 54, Ahn Kisook, 35, and James Ferrari, 59.
Here’s what you need to know about the driver on the tragic journey:
1. He Was One of the Injured
The engineer suffered injuries after the crash. His injuries were not as severe as some of his surviving passengers. He was conscious leaving the scene, conversing with emergency responders. The Poughkeepsie Journal has said that all of the four Metro North employees on board are cooperating with the investigation.
On December 3, the MTA released a video that detailed the damage and the size of the repair work ahead:
2. Rockefeller May Have ‘Zoned Out’ Prior to the Crash
#Breaking: Officials briefed on the investigation tell @ABC that evidence is pointing to “human error” as the cause of the fatal train crash
— Liz Cho (@LizCho7) December 2, 2013
The New York Post reported two days after the crash that Rockefeller was alleged to have “zoned out” in the moments leading up to the crash. It’s alleged that Rockefeller has admitted to “zoning out.” He also denied that he had been drinking before driving the train but a toxicology report has still been ordered by the National Transit Safety Board.
Sources had already told the media: “It’s definitely human error. The speed was excessive.” The train’s entire seven cars derailed, one flipping so violently that it came within inches of landing in the water where the Hudson and Harlem rivers meet. It’s reported that investigators have a low-quality feed from a nearby bridge that shows the crash.
After officials recored two black box recorders from the scene of the crash, The Post was reporting that the train’s throttle was “idle” until five seconds before crash. Meaning the train was in neutral position, the paper further reports that Rockefeller didn’t apply the brakes until just five seconds before the derailment.
BREAKING: train was traveling 82 MPH on 30mph curve. #nbc4ny
— Andrew Siff (@andrewsiff4NY) December 2, 2013
3. He’s a 15 Year Veteran of Metro North
He has been working for Metro-North for 15 years. According to reports, Rockefeller claims that he tried to slam on the brakes but they didn’t work. According to The New York Times, Rockerfeller says he “dumped” the brakes prior to the crash. The Times reports:
Dumping brakes is a last-resort move typically reserved for averting collisions with other trains or cars stuck at crossings, said Grady C. Cothen, a retired federal railroad regulator. He said it involved slamming the emergency brakes on the wheels on all cars at once. To achieve that, the operator quickly releases, or “dumps,” all air from the train’s brake lines, he said. “If he did that, then it would have been an act of considerable alarm,” Mr. Cothen said.
Union head, Anthony Bottalico, told The Poughkeepsie Journal that Rockefeller is “a sincere human being with an impeccable record, that I know of. He’s diligent and competent.” In addition to being a train engineer, Rockefeller is also a volunteer firefighter.
Bottalico added when talking to The Post:
He is a quality engineer. He is well respected. He has an incredible work ethic. He’s very traumatized right now . . . He hasn’t slept in over 24 hours. He suffered some problems with his lower back. He got knocked around pretty good. Yesterday, a little piece of everyone on the railroad died. We are there for him.
4. His Family Are Asking For Patience
His uncle, Jan, has leaped to his defense, saying:
If he said the brakes failed, the brakes failed. He doesn’t lie. He’s been in fire departments, rescues. Everything he did, he did in a safe manner. Everything with him was safety.
Despite his uncle’s pleas, the train safely made nine stops before the derailment. Further, New York Senator Chuck Schumer said:
Clearly, [the brakes] were working a short time before [the train] came to this curve. When I heard about the speed, I gulped. For a train to be going 80 mph around at curve is just a frightening thing. It raises so many questions….[but] it’s premature to blame anyone or anything right now.
5. He’s a Resident of Germantown, New York
Prior to working for Metro-North, Rockefeller worked for his father’s construction business in Rhineback, New York. The train driver lives in Germantown, New York, reports The New York Times.
Rhineback Mayor James Reardon told The Poughkeepsie Journal:
Billy is a conscientious and dedicated guy. I have to believe this was some type of mechanical problem. He is a great guy, humble and very caring. My thoughts and prayers are with him.