The passenger who operated a Long Island Rail Road train during a morning rush hour and the engineer who allowed him to do it have both been charged with reckless endangerment in connection with the July 2 incident, authorities said.
William Kutsch, a 47-year-old court reporter from East Setauket and veteran LIRR engineer, 40-year-old Ronald Cabrera, surrendered to authorities this morning. They are expected to be arraigned on second-degree reckless endangerment charges today in First District Court in Hempstead. If convicted, the men face up to a year behind bars.
The charges stem from an incident early last month. Cabrera allowed Kutsch to operate the diesel-powered, double-decker train from Hicksville to Hunters Point in Queens. Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice said her office spoke to several eyewitnesses during her office's two-week investigation who reported seeing Kutsch enter and leave the cabin – where only the engineer is supposed to ride – at 6:45 a.m.
Witnesses also said they saw Cabrera standing in the aisle, rather than being seated at the controls. Rice said an LIRR conductor actually saw Cabrera standing while someone else was operating the controls of the train. The train doesn't have the ability to go on autopilot, so whoever was at the controls must have been driving. Also, the train has a "dead man's pedal" that must be pushed down, otherwise the brakes will engage. That feature combined with the lack of autopilot and witness testimony was enough to convince Rice that Kutsch was operating the machinery.
Kutsch doesn't have an engineer's license and has never gotten formal training in how to drive a train. Rice said that the LIRR engineer who saw Kutsch behind the controls in the train's cabin assumed he was an authorized trainee under Cabrera's supervision.
“People on the train and in the communities along the tracks deserve to know someone’s being held accountable for this unimaginably reckless act,” said Rice.
It's not clear how or if Kutsch and Cabrera knew each other prior to July 2, but Rice said that Kutsch is a regular on the railroad. Her office believes the train was carrying nearly 400 riders at the time of the incident and the train reached a top speed of 80 miles per hour before reaching its destination.