Is It A Crime To Fall Asleep While Conducting the Metro North?

In case you live outside of the tri-state area and/or live under a rock, there was a horrific train crash on the Metro North line this weekend, four people where killed and over 60 people were injured when a morning train derailed ahead of the Spuyten Duyvil station stop in the Bronx.

The details are still being figured out from Sunday’s accident. But, I suppose “accident” isn’t a satisfying word when people die in the public space. Somebody has to be at fault, and right now all the attention is on engineer William Rockerfeller, who admits to falling asleep or “zoning out,” just before the fatal crash.

Is that enough to bring criminal charges against him? There are a lot of people who want Rockerfeller to be punished for this tragedy with jail time…

From what we know right now, Rockerfeller wasn’t drinking. He wasn’t drunk from the night before. He wasn’t on the phone or texting or playing with an app. And it also doesn’t immediately appear that Rockerfeller was overworked, or critically sleep deprived. He just, kinda, fell asleep at the wheel. From the New York Daily News:

“Why did he fall asleep?” said Andrew Frisch, a former assistant U.S. attorney who prosecuted the man responsible for the 2003 Staten Island ferry crash.

“Just nodding off shouldn’t result in a criminal charge. But if, for example, somebody was taking medication that made them drowsy or if he had been up all night and then had conducted the train, that would be different.”…

“Anything that shows he consciously knew he was violating a standard of care,” Frisch said.

Prosecutors will try whatever they can to find something to charge Rockerfeller with. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo basically ordered them to.

But it’s probably not the people, it’s the procedures. Evidently, the Metro-North has an alarm system to alert an inactive driver… but it was in the wrong car:

The “alerter” system sounds a warning after 25 seconds of inactivity from the engineer. It can activate the brakes automatically if the engineer doesn’t respond to the prompt in 15 seconds….

The system, however, was installed in the locomotive, which was powering the train from the rear, and Rockefeller, due to protocol, was operating the train with remote controls from the lead car, which had no alerter, officials said. In effect, Rockefeller was seven cars away from the audible alarm.

While the state will want to punish the engineer, the victims will be coming after the state. It hasn’t even been a week since the crash, but the first lawsuit has already been filed:

The MTA’s acknowledgment of the existence of the alerter system on the doomed train came as NYPD cop Eddie Russell, one of 75 people injured, filed a $10 million suit, alleging the MTA was negligent.

His suit throws in a new twist — he’s laying the blame on treacherous track, not the locomotive engineer.

That’s not a “twist.” That’s the most obvious thing that was going to happen after this accident.

But don’t expect the MTA to just roll over. Last month, I wrote about how the MTA aggressively defends itself from civil lawsuits.

There’s going to be a giant legal mess here. I guess mass transit accidents always are.

‘Sleepy driving’ won’t guarantee Metro-North train engineer gets convicted [Daily News]
William Rockefeller, Engineer Driving During Deadly New York Train Crash, May Have Nodded Off [Huffington Post]

Earlier: Getting Hit By A Train Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up To Be

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