Attorney: Engineer Was In ‘Daze’ At Controls Before Metro-North Derailment

'It Was A Mistake That Any Of Us Could Make,' Union Official Says
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The key question for Rockefeller on Tuesday remained why the train under his control barreled through a 70 mph zone and into the 30 mph Spuyten Duyvil curve at 82 mph. While investigators continued to examine equipment and track, sources said the focus was squarely on Rockefeller.

Rockefeller, 46, was hired by Metro-North in 1999 as a custodian, Aiello reported. By 2003, he had worked his way up and was promoted to engineer.

With overtime, his salary topped out at $145,000.

Retired railroad supervisor Michael McClendon supervised Rockefeller for several years, and called him a model of safety consciousness.

“Billy was a volunteer fireman from Rhinebeck. He became a member of the fire brigade in Grand Central Terminal. He was certified as a New York City fire safety director, which was part of the job, so to say safety was something uncommon to him – it was everyday practices for him,” McClendon said.

McClendon added that Rockefeller must be traumatized, and knows full well that the fatal events of early Sunday morning have forever changed many lives – including his own.

“I wish it didn’t happen to anybody, but I sure as hell don’t want it to happen to him,” McClendon said tearfully.

Rockefeller lives in a well-kept house on a modest rural road in Germantown, N.Y., about 40 miles south of Albany.

Bruno Lizzul, an MTA machinist who met Rockefeller when they both worked at Grand Central around 2000, described the engineer as honest, hard-working and helpful — so much so that he took it upon himself to show up and help Lizzul renovate his home ahead of a baby’s arrival.

“He went the extra yard. He just decided to extend himself to me,” Lizzul said.

Lizzul said Rockefeller was very serious about his work: “He would not do anything to upset anybody or in any way cause harm.”

Cuomo: Train’s Speed Was ‘Unjustifiable’

Four people were killed in the Sunday crash and more than 60 others were injured.

Investigators haven’t yet determined whether the wreck was the result of human error or mechanical trouble, but on Monday revealed the high speed at which it was traveling at the curve near the Spuyten Duyvil station.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday “that amount of speed is certainly unjustifiable.”

“Certainly we want to make sure that that operator is disciplined in an appropriate way. There’s such a gross deviation from the norm, that there may be other agencies that also want to take a look at his behavior in operating the train,” Cuomo said.

Bottalico said he was confident the investigation would reveal there was no criminal intent.

PHOTOS: Metro-North Train Derailment

Weener said Monday the throttle went to idle six seconds before the derailed train came to a complete stop, “very late in the game” for a train going that fast, and the brakes were fully engaged five seconds before the train stopped.

Weener cited information extracted from the train’s two data recorders; investigators are also interviewing the train’s crew. Asked why the train was going so fast, he said: “That’s the question we need to answer.”

The speed stunned officials.

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“I gulped. It sort of takes your breath away,” said U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) “For a train to be going 82 mph around that curve is just a frightening thought.”

Cuomo said the NTSB findings make it clear “extreme speed was a central cause” of the derailment. Investigators are not aware of any problems with the brakes during the nine stops the train made before the derailment, Weener said.

Cuomo said Tuesday that since the crash, the state has been “taking new precautions to protect the safety of New York commuters.”

“At my direction, the MTA will be implementing a safety stand-down that will require all employees to participate in safety briefings,” he said.

When asked, Cuomo said he would feel safe riding Metro-North.

“This was truly an extraordinary, exceptional situation. You still have human beings involved in a system, in almost every system, and when you have human beings involved, you will have accidents,” he told reporters, including WCBS 880’s Paul Murnane. “This seems like a gross mistake and we want to find out exactly why and what and we want to make sure the operator is held accountable for his actions.”

The NYPD is conducting its own investigation with assistance from the Bronx district attorney’s office in the event the derailment becomes a criminal case.

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