YONKERS, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) — A union official said the engineer at the controls of the Metro-North train derailed this past weekend “nodded off” at the controls and “zoned out” before the accident, while an attorney said the engineer went into a “daze.”
It remains unknown specifically what engineer William Rockefeller said to investigators when he was interviewed on Tuesday evening. But the attorney for Rockefeller said the engineer experienced a a “daze” at the controls before the train went off the track.
Attorney Jeffrey Chartier accompanied Rockefeller to his interview with National Transportation Safety Board investigators and described the account Rockefeller gave Tuesday.
He said Rockefeller’s daze was “almost like road fatigue” or the phenomenon sometimes called highway hypnosis.
Rockefeller also told first responders he began “thinking about nothing in particular” before the derailment, CBS 2’s Dave Carlin reported.
As CBS 2’s Tony Aiello reported, union chief Anthony Bottalico said Rockefeller told him the same thing – that he momentarily lost awareness, and by the time he recovered, it was too late.
“I just know it was a lapse, and that was a nod, or how ever they want to couch it, how ever it’ll be explained today, and it was a mistake that any of us could make,” Bottalico said. “And he caught that mistake too late.”
He earlier compared Rockefeller’s situation to spacing out on the road.
“He zoned out. He had one of those where, ‘Whoa,’ you know, like you drive your car,” said Bottalico, chief of the Association of Commuter Rail Employees.
Bottalico has been providing moral support to Rockefeller as he has been meeting with NTSB investigators. He said Rockefeller would be completely forthcoming with investigators.
“Absolutely. Absolutely. There’s nothing that indicates to me that Billy would do anything but tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth,” Bottalico said.
Rockefeller reportedly has taken the loss of life very hard.
“It’s crushed him. Billy is very affected by this, to the point that he really couldn’t go forward on Monday, and today he’s gotten up the rest and strength to be able to come down here and testify for the NTSB,” Bottalico said.
At a news conference Tuesday afternoon, Earl Weener, a board member at the National Transportation Safety Board, said it was “premature to be able to say” whether the engineer was fully conscious at all times.
He did say the “dead man’s pedal” that the engineer was standing on was not engaged. Had Rockefeller passed out or fainted, left his position, and come off that pedal, the train would have stopped.
Investigators expected to finish interviewing engineer Rockefeller on Wednesday.
Investigator: No Evidence Of Brake Malfunction
Weener said Tuesday afternoon that an analysis of data indicated that the brakes appeared to be working properly when a Metro-North train derailed this past weekend, leaving four people dead.
As CBS 2’s Lou Young reported, Weener said the agency had examined data from before the run and each station stop around the route, and there were no anomalies in brake performance.
“Simply put, based on these data, there’s no indication that the brake systems were not functioning properly,” Weener said.
A more detailed inspection of each rail car was under way on Tuesday afternoon. On Monday night, the trains were moved to secure railyards, and investigators spent the day documenting and inspecting mechanical systems.
Meanwhile, crews on Tuesday were working to reconstruct the tracks that had been damaged by the derailment.
As the investigation continued, officials said partial service was set to be restored Wednesday.
Beginning Wednesday morning, one lane of the Metro-North Hudson Line will be running southbound for the morning rush, while one northbound lane will also be open for the evening rush, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority told CBS 2.
Meanwhile, Weener said all of the breath alcohol tests conducted on the engineer and crew came back negative. Other substance tests were still pending.
Investigators Probe What Happened With Engineer
NTSB spokesman Keith Holloway said investigators began talking to Rockefeller on Monday, but they postponed completing the interview until Tuesday evening.
Bottalico said it was because Rockefeller hadn’t slept in almost 24 hours and was “very distraught.” He said Monday that Rockefeller “is totally traumatized by everything that has happened.”
The official said investigators are checking his cell phone records to see if he was on a call or texting at the time. Weener said no information was yet available Tuesday about Rockefeller’s possible cell phone use.
“We have not looked at that data yet. We’re getting the forensic data from the cell phone. That certainly will be a focus of this investigation, because we have had a cell phone involved in a number of previous accidents,” Weener said. “But at this point in time, I can’t tell you what the use was.”
Investigators were also probing his whereabouts before boarding the train for work.
At the time of the accident, Rockefeller was on his regularly scheduled route, for which he made two runs each day, Weener said.
He had been running the Hudson Line route from Poughkeepsie since Nov. 17, and was on the second nine-hour workday of a five-day week, Weener said.
Rockefeller had recently switched from the 9 p.m. shift to the 5 a.m. shift. It was not known whether the schedule change could have caused him fatigue issues, Aiello reported.
But Weener did not seem to think there was any reason to believe so.
“There’s every indication he would have had the time to get full restorative sleep,” Weener said.
Weener did not discuss any claims about Rockefeller being “zoned out,” or “nodding” saying the interview was still pending.
“We don’t know at this point. The interview was to be conducted this afternoon,” he said.