Engineer Who Fell Asleep at Controls Before 2013 Derailment Sues Metro-North for $10M

The engineer, William Rockefeller, wasn't charged in the crash, and the head of the NTSB called the four deaths "preventable"

What to Know

  • Four people died and more than 70 others were hurt when the train derailed in the Bronx in 2013
  • The engineer, William Rockefeller, fell asleep at the controls but was not charged; he had sleep apnea and a drastic shift change, NTSB said
  • Feds blasted the railroad at the time of the derailment, saying it lacked policy to screen for sleeping disorders and should have auto brake

The engineer who nodded off at the controls of a Metro-North train just before it derailed in the Bronx in 2013, killing four people and injuring more than 70 others, is suing the railroad for $10 million.

Attorneys for William Rockefeller filed the suit in federal court on Thursday morning, alleging that the railroad acted negligently by not providing mechanisms that would automatically slow trains as they approached a dangerous curve near the Spuyten Duyvil station or an alerter to keep an engineer in the control cab alert before the Dec. 1, 2013, crash. 

The suit also alleged that the railroad has a "'deficient safety culture' that prizes on-time performance at the expense of protecting riders and workers."

The suit also states that Rockefeller sustained several "permanently disabling injuries" including a torn labrum on his left shoulder, compression to his left acromioclavicular joint and post-traumatic stress disorder. The suit alleges that the injuries have caused Rockefeller to lose past and future wages.

Through a spokesman, Metro-North said it does not comment on pending litigation.

Rockefeller's sleepiness was due to a combination of an undiagnosed disorder — sleep apnea — and a drastic shift in his work schedule, the National Transportation Board determined. The agency said the railroad lacked a policy to screen engineers for sleep disorders, which contributed to the crash. According to the NTSB, had a system been in place to automatically apply the brakes when an engineer nods off, the crash would have been avoided.

The acting head of the NTSB at the time the report came out called the deaths and injuries "preventable," and politicians, including Sen. Richard Blumenthal, the Democrat from Connecticut, slammed the MTA, which runs Metro-North, and said it had "blood on its hands."

Rockefeller wasn't charged in the crash.

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