By Michael Muskal
9:17 AM PST, December 5, 2013
The engineer of a Manhattan-bound commuter train that derailed and killed four passengers has been suspended without pay, officials said Thursday.
William Rockefeller was at the controls of the Metro-North train that was speeding at 82 mph through a turn restricted by a 30-mph speed limit. Rockefeller was apparently dazed moments before the Sunday morning derailment, according to his lawyer and union officials.
Rockefeller “has been removed from service without pay,” Kevin Ortiz, a spokesman for MTA, told the Los Angeles Times. The MTA operates Metro-North and other commuter lines in New York. Ortiz said that Rockefeller earned $145,000 a year, including overtime.
The train was heading to New York when it derailed at the curved portion of track near the Spuyten Duyvil station on Metro-North's Hudson Line in the Bronx.
In addition to the four passengers, 60 people on the train were injured.
The National Transportation Safety Board interviewed Rockefeller this week as part of its investigation. His lawyer, Jeffrey Chartier, said the engineer experienced a nod or “a daze,” almost like road fatigue or the phenomenon that some people call highway hypnosis.
What Rockefeller remembers is “operating the train, coming to a section where the track was still clear — then, all of a sudden, feeling something was wrong and hitting the brakes,” Chartier told reporters after meeting with the NTSB. “He felt something was not right, and he hit the brakes.”
Anthony Bottalico, general chairman of the union, the Assn. of Commuter Rail Employees, told reporters on Tuesday that he believed that Rockefeller had nodded off moments before the train entered a curve and veered off the tracks.
“He basically nodded. ... He had the equivalent of what we all have when we drive a car -- that is, you sometimes have a momentary nod,” Bottalico said. “How long that lasts, I can’t answer that. Only Billy can.
“He caught himself, but he caught himself too late. He put the train in emergency, but that was six seconds prior to derailment.”
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