NTSB: Union Official's Comments Violated Confidentiality During Investigation

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — The National Transportation Safety Board has removed the union representing Metro-North Railroad operators from the investigation into the deadly derailment in the Bronx this past weekend.

The NTSB said in a news release Tuesday that it was not pleased with the Association of Commuter Rail Employees’ comments about the investigation into the derailment near the Spuyten Duyvil station Sunday morning.

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On Tuesday, Union General Chairman Anthony Bottalico held a news conference and spoke to CBS 2 and several other news organizations. He remarked that engineer William Rockefeller 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,” Bottalico told CBS 2’s Tony Aiello.

Specifically mentioning Bottalico and his interviews, the NTSB said the comments violated a party agreement between the agency and the union to maintain confidentiality while the investigation is ongoing.

“Under the NTSB’s procedures, organizations and agencies are invited to provide technical expertise in support of the NTSB’s investigation. The organizations designated as parties sign an agreement to abide by NTSB rules for the duration of the investigation,” the NTSB said in a release. “Maintaining confidentiality of investigative information is one of the rules that parties agree to, further, they agree that their organizations will neither reveal nor comment on investigative information.”

The NTSB said the union and Bottalico violated the rules and thus have been cut out of the investigation.

“While we value the technical expertise that groups like ACRE can provide during the course of an investigation, it is counterproductive when an organization breaches the party agreement and publically interprets or comments on investigation information,” NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman said in the release. “Our rules exist to avoid the prospect of any party to an NTSB investigation offering its slant on the circumstances of the accident.”

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At an NTSB news conference Tuesday, board member Earl Weener would not enter into Rockefeller’s state during the crash. He said it was “premature to be able to say” whether the engineer was fully conscious at all times.

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.

Four people were killed and more than 60 were injured in the derailment.

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