Brandon Bostian was the driver of an Amtrak train that derailed Tuesday night in north Philadelphia after barreling toward a sharp turn at speeds greater than 100 miles per hour, more than double the speed limit for the area.
The crash killed at least 8 people and injured more than 200, officials said.
The 32-year-old engineer from New York survived the crash, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, as did the train’s conductor, who has not been named. Bostian was taken to the hospital and received 14 staples to close a laceration on his head, and was initially interviewed by police there, saying he didn’t remember much, according to ABC 6.
Bostian’s attorney told ABC News that his client suffered a concussion and has no recollection of the crash and “no explanation” for what happened. The attorney, Robert Goggis, of Philadelphia, told ABC that Bostian was “very distraught” to learn about the loss of life. He turned over his cell phone voluntarily and gave a blood sample.
Bostian remembers driving to the crash area, then later getting tossed around, coming to, finding his bag and calling 911 with his cell phone, his attorney told ABC.
The train, Northeast Regional 188, was headed from Washington, DC to New York carrying about 238 passengers and five crew members when it derailed in the Port Richmond section of Philadelphia, the Associated Press reports. All seven cars derailed and many were overturned and ripped to shreds by the crash. The accident shut down the rail line in one of the busiest transit corridors in the country.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. ‘When You Heard the Name Brandon Bostian, the First THing You Would Think Is Trains’
A childhood friend, Lee Allen, told the New York Times that Bostian, originally from Memphis, was an “unabashed nerd” who had a passion for trains from a young age:
When you heard the name Brandon Bostian, the first thing you would think is trains. His walls were covered with pictures, he had several model sets. Sometimes we’d just go down to the tracks that ran through town and watch trains and shoot the breeze.
Bostian posted on Facebook about his meticulous use of check lists, according to the Los Angeles Times, “At work, I run through a five-item checklist after I inspect my engine and before I touch anything. Then a 10-item checklist before I move the train an inch, and another four-item list at every station stop. So I guess it’s no surprise that I keep a checklist for packing a bag for an overnight trip.”
Bostian graduated from the University of Missouri-Columbia in 2006 with a degree in business management and administration.
A college roommate, Jason Gerali, said Bostian talked about trains while they were in school together. “He was quiet. He was always sitting in front of his computer playing the Microsoft train simulator,” Gerali told the LA Times, “which is funny because it’s so boring. It’s like a flight simulator but you just have to stay on the rails.”
While in college he began his railroad career as a brakeman, the NTSB said.
He also worked as a cashier at Target while in college and previously lived in San Francisco.
While in San Francisco, Bostian worked for Caltrain, according to NBC Bay Area. The California commuter rail line was contracted with Amtrak at the time, the news station reports.
He was photographed by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 2007 while working as an assistant conductor on a train from St. Louis to Chicago.
He has worked in this particular job for several weeks and is based in New York City. It is an out and back trip five days a week from New York to Washington and back.
2. He Has Criticized Railroads For Not Having a System in Place to Stop Derailments
Bostian was a frequent poster on message boards about railroads.
Bostian made posts on Trainorders.com critical of railroads for not installing positive train control systems, which could have prevented the derailment, according to the New York Times. He wrote in 2011:
At any point over the previous EIGHTY years the railroad could have voluntarily implemented some form of this technology. I wish the railroads had been more proactive in adopting active signaling systems from the get-go. (The) reality is that they have had nearly a hundred years of opportunity to implement SOME sort of system to mitigate human error, but with a few notable exceptions have failed to do so.
He also talked about how Amtrak crew might be pushed to work over the allowed hours to avoid delays:
Everyone wants an extension to hours of service to avoid inconvenience, but what will you say when the crew that’s been on duty for longer than 12 hours accidentally falls asleep and passes a stop signal and rear-ends a loaded hazmat train, killing dozens or hundreds of people? A crew is probably not any less safe after 12 hours and one minute than they were a few moments ago, but you have to draw that line somewhere.
3. The Train May Have Been Struck By Something Before the Crash
Bostian was interviewed by the National Transportation Safety Board on Friday, three days after the crash. He was “extremely cooperative,” said Robert Sumwalt, a spokesman for the agency at a press conference not long after the interview.
“He remembers ringing the train bell as he went through the North Philadelphia train station,” Sumwalt said. “But he has no recollection of anything past that. He felt fully qualified and comfortable with his equipment and he reported no problems with his train handling. When asked, he demonstrated very good working knowledge of the territory, speed limitations and things like that.”
At the press conference, Sumwalt revealed that one of the assistant conductors heard a radio transmission from a local regional train, SEPTA, that had stopped for an emergency after the conductor reported he thought he was struck by something, either a rock or a bullet. She said she also believes she heard Bostian say that his locomotive was also being struck.
The NTSB has asked for the FBI to assist in examining the front of Bastian’s locomotive, because there is damage that could be consistent with it being struck by something. The damage is in a circular pattern, emanating out.
Watch the full press conference with Sumwalt below:
On the night of the crash, a woman tweeted that her father had been on the stopped SEPTA train and had been told it had been shot at. She said he had seen the Amtrak train pass them right before it crashed.
The Philadelphia Inquirer later confirmed that police were investigating the incident involving the SEPTA train. An Amtrak Acela train also reported it was struck by projectiles in the same area at about 9:05 p.m., about 20 minutes before the crash.
Preliminary findings by the National Transportation Safety Board found that the Amtrak train was traveling at 106 mph prior to the crash, Sumwalt said
The crash occurred as the train entered a curve where the speed limit is 50 mph. The limit is 70 mph just prior to the curve.
Sumwalt said the engineer applied the train’s emergency brakes right before the crash. The last recorded speed was 102 mph.
The entire train, seven passenger cars and a locomotive, derailed at about 9:21 p.m. as it was traveling through the left-hand turn, Sumwalt said.
Despite the investigation being in its early stages, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter told CNN, “Clearly it was reckless in terms of the driving by the engineer. There’s no way in the world he should have been going that fast into the curve. I don’t know what was going on with him. I don’t know what was going on in the cab, but there’s really no excuse that can be offered, literally, unless he had a heart attack.”
Bostian’s attorney, Robert Goggin, told ABC his client is cooperating with authorities:
He was at the disposal of the police for six hours before I — or five hours — before I got on scene.
Among other things, they indicated that they wanted to get a search warrant for his blood, which we consented to. He said, ‘You don’t need a search warrant, happy to give it to you.’ It had already been drawn at Einstein Hospital. They asked for his cell phone, which they had. [We] said, ‘Have it. Take all the information you want. You don’t need a search warrant for that either. We’ll give it to you.’ I’m assuming [authorities asked for the phone] because they want to see whether he was on the telephone at the time of the accident. So he’s cooperated, and not only that, he’s indicated that he would make himself available to the police if they need any more information.
The main concern is just the overwhelming tragedy, the loss of life, the injuries to so many people. That’s really the concern right now. That’s his concern, that’s the union’s concern, I’m certain [it’s] Amtrak’s concern. It’s a tragedy on all fronts.
Goggin said his client was devastated by the crash.
“The television was on in the police district, and the constant count and recounting of the incident was being broadcast in his face all morning, and he was distraught,” Goggin said.
His client was “pretty beat up” after the crash, with a concussion, staples in his head, stitches to his leg and a knee injury. “What he looked was exhausted,” Goggin said.
He said his client didn’t have any previous medical issues. “He said he had none. He’s on no medications … He has no health issues to speak of and just has no explanation,” Goggin said.
In a recent similar crash, in the Bronx, New York, Metro-North engineer William Rockefeller was driving a train with an un-diagnosed sleep condition and “zoned out.” Like in the Philadelphia crash, Rockefeller’s train approached a sharp turn going at a high rate of speed and derailed. Four passengers were killed and dozens were injured in that 2013 derailment.
The case could offer somewhat of a glimpse into whether criminal charges could be filed against Bostian. The state prosecutor announced this week that no charges will be filed against Rockefeller.
His attorney, Jeffrey Chartier, told the New York Times, “I believe it was a combination of failure to implement safety measures — not only physical safety measures on the rail itself,cbut also proper screening and medical checks on employees.”
Driving a train while drowsy is not itself a crime, legal experts told DNAInfo.
“Falling asleep, by itself, is fundamentally not a crime, not even for a motorman driving a train,” a law enforcement source told the news website. “There was nothing mitigating here. He was not drunk, on the phone, or out partying the night before, and he went to sleep at a reasonable hour.”
Bostian changed his Facebook profile picture to a black square at about 1:40 a.m. Wednesday, about four hours after the crash, but has not posted on the page.
Friends and family have posted on Bostian’s Facebook page about the crash.
One person said, “You know, for me, Amtrack is synonymous with Brandon, and as soon as I saw the story this morning, my immediate thoughts were about you and continue to be.”
An Amtrak engineer, wrote, “Hold your head up. What you know about yourself and those of us that know you is more important than anything being said in the media. Everyday we hold lives in our hands – 99.9% of the time it goes unappreciated and taken for granted. Yes, it happened to you but it could have been any one of us and you are not alone.”
Another Amtrak employee said, “Just wanted to say that we are all thinking about you, and you have our full support. Every day, you will get stronger and stronger. And just remember that your Amtrak family is here for you Brother.”
4. He Is Being Attacked on Twitter as a ‘Gay Activist’ & Diversity Hire
Bostian is gay and was quoted in a 2012 story by The Midtown Gazette about the fight for gay marriage in New York. He said he moved to New York from San Francisco and had been active in the Proposition 8 fight.
“It’s kind of insulting to have to beg people for my right to marry,” he told the newspaper. “I feel like we shouldn’t even have to have this fight.”
GotNews, which first reported his name, called him a “gay activist,” and many Twitter users have reacted negatively to his sexuality, claiming he may have been a “diversity” hire by the government-funded Amtrak.
5. Six of the Eight Victims Have Been Identified
An Associated Press staffer, Jim Gaines, was also killed. The AP reports the 48-year-old father of two was returning home to New Jersey from meetings in Washington. He began working at the AP in 1998 and was a key factor in developing the news agency’s video initiatives.
Also killed was Philadelphia tech CEO Rachel Jacobs. She is the mother of a 2-year-old. Her last contact was a text to her husband at 8:45 p.m. on the night of the crash, reports CBS Philadelphia. The train derailed just after 9 p.m.
A fourth victim, Abid Gilani, was an executive at Wells Fargo. He was returning from a funeral in Virginia, according to the New York Daily News.
Derrick Griffith, the dean of students at Medgar Evers College at City University of New York also died in the crash, the Wall Street Journal reports.
Bob Gildersleeve Jr., 45, was also killed in the crash, according to the Baltimore Sun. An executive at Ecolab, Gildersleeve was traveling from Baltimore to New York for meetings.
Gildersleeve had been missing since the crash and his family was in Philadelphia on Wednesday. They spoke with Philadelphia Daily News columnist Helen Ubinas: