YONKERS, N.Y. – An engineer whose speeding commuter train ran off the rails along a curve, killing four people, experienced a hypnosis-like “daze” and nodded at the controls just before the wreck, and by the time he caught himself it was too late, people representing him said Tuesday.
Attorney Jeffrey Chartier accompanied engineer William Rockefeller to his interview with National Transportation Safety Board investigators and described the account Rockefeller gave. Chartier said the engineer experienced a nod or “a daze,” almost like road fatigue or the phenomenon sometimes called highway hypnosis. He couldn’t say how long it lasted.
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 said. “… He felt something was not right, and he hit the brakes.”
He called Rockefeller “a guy with a stellar record who, I believe, did nothing wrong.”
“You’ve got a good guy and an accident,” he said. “… A terrible accident is what it is.”
Federal investigators wouldn’t comment on Rockefeller’s level of alertness around the time of the Sunday morning wreck in the Bronx.
Two law enforcement officials said the engineer told police at the scene that his mind was wandering before he realized the train was in trouble and by then it was too late to do anything about it. One of the officials said Rockefeller described himself as being “in a daze” before the wreck.
Questions about Rockefeller’s role mounted rapidly after investigators disclosed on Monday that the Metro-North Railroad commuter train jumped the tracks after going into a curve at 82 mph, or nearly three times the 30 mph speed limit.