Train engineer, William Rockefeller, zoned out right before the train derailed. His lawyer said he suffered from “highway hypnosis.” Federal investigators found no apparent problems with any of the Metro-North Railroad train’s brakes or other functions which derailed over the weekend, injuring nearly 70 people and killing four.
Rockefeller said once he “came to himself” he immediately shut down the throttle. Rockefeller said he tried to release the emergency brake right before he braced for impact; it was too late. Reportedly, after the crash he did what he could to help the injured passengers.
Rockefeller met with New York City police, detectives from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board for nearly three hours. Rockefeller’s lawyer, Jeffrey Chartier, said his client was very remorseful and teared up several times during the investigation.
Anthony Bottalico, a union representative, said Rockefeller described himself as kind of nodding off right before the train derailed. The engineer said people have used many words to describe his experience; such as he fell asleep, nodded and zoned out, but he’s not a sleep expert so he can’t say for sure. Bottalico is the acting director of the Association of Commuter Rail Employees.
Safety board member, Earl Weener, said that no anomalies or degradation of the breaking system had occurred.
Weener said Rockefeller reported to work at 5:04 Sunday morning for his route which began in Poughkeepsie before 6 a.m. This was the second day of a five-day work week for Rockefeller. There was no indication that he had not gotten a full night of sleep. Rockefeller told investigators he was in bed by 8:30 p.m. on Saturday and had slept about seven hours.
Although the results from drug tests were not available, Weener said that alcohol tests had come back negative for the entire train’s crew.
Law enforcement said Rockefeller’s phone did not indicate that he was had been on a call or texting leading up to the accident. Chartier said his client’s phone was off the entire time.
Rockefeller told the police that he was in a daze. He’s not sure what he was thinking about in the moment; the next thing he realized was the need to hit the brakes. He can’t remember any events leading up to the crash and has no clue as to how the train built up so much speed before hitting that 30 mph curve.
Rockefeller is a veteran engineer who is now on unpaid leave following the tragic derailment.
Bottalico said that 46-year-old Rockefeller didn’t commit a crime; he made a mistake. He said it’s the same thing that happens to drivers who take long road trips. Sometimes if they look at the lines in the road too long they zone out. Train engineers can experience the same thing if they look at the rails too long. Bottalico said many people have done it and then caught themselves.
Rockefeller also caught himself; but it was too late. He hit the brakes only five seconds before the train plummeted off the tracks.
When Rockefeller hit the emergency brakes the train was already in the process of falling off a dangerous curve going 82 miles per hour. The Grand Central bound train derailed going almost three times the allowable speed through the area located in the Bronx; just north of the Spuyten Duyvil station.
Commuting was suspended on the train’s Hudson line after all seven of the cars along with the locomotive derailed.
On Wednesday morning passengers were again allowed to board the Metro-North train into New York City for the first time since the tragic train wreck over the weekend. Service has not restored to normal service but is operating on a limited basis while damaged tracks and destroyed rails are being restored.
Train engineer, William Rockefeller, zoned out moments before the train derailed while in a mental state his lawyer called “highway hypnosis.” This tragic accident took the lives of four people and injured approximately 70 others. Rockefeller has fully cooperated with authorities and is extremely remorseful for his involvement in the deadliest accident in the railroad’s history.
By: Cherese Jackson (Virginia)