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Train's Driver 'Zoned Out' Before Fatal Bronx Crash

Image: Train's Driver 'Zoned Out' Before Fatal Bronx Crash

By Drew MacKenzie   |   Tuesday, 03 Dec 2013 12:59 PM

The driver of a New York commuter train that derailed Sunday, killing four people and injuring 63, may have dozed off minutes before the horrible crash, investigators think.

Investigators think engineer William Rockefeller was "consciously asleep," according to the New York Daily News.

Rockefeller acknowledged that he "zoned out" as the train was heading into a 30-mph bend, and he realized it was speeding dangerously only when a whistle went off to alert him. By the time he jammed on the brakes, it was too late.

He told investigators, "I was in a daze. I don't know what I was thinking about, and the next thing I knew I was hitting the brakes," sources told the Daily News.

Another source told the New York Post, "He was just somehow inattentive,'' adding that data from the train's two black box recording devices revealed that Rockefeller did not hit the brakes until just five seconds before the derailment.

The accident over the holiday weekend occurred just north of the Spuyten Duyvil station in the Bronx. The National Transportation Safety Board says the train, on its way into New York, was traveling at 82 mph.

According to Post sources, the train's throttle was first thrown into the idle position, which is similar to putting a car in neutral. Within seconds the engineer hit the brakes, but the speed was too great to prevent the seven cars from going off the tracks.

Rockefeller, 46, acknowledged at the scene that he had not been concentrating on his job prior to the accident while also claiming that the brakes had "failed to engage," the report said.

But NTSB investigators are said to be looking into the possibility that he had fallen asleep. They are also waiting to see the results of toxicology tests to see whether he had been drinking, which he has vehemently denied.

The New York City Police Department and the Bronx District Attorney's Office are also investigating the train wreck and have subpoenaed his phone records to see whether Rockefeller was talking or texting at the time of the crash.

The New York site DNAInfo said investigators do not think drugs, alcohol or cellphone use played any part in the crash. They also do not think the train's brake system was at fault, according to the Daily News.

The NTSB is also investigating whether the crash could have been prevented if Metro-North trains were equipped with a system called PTC, or positive train control, that would have applied the emergency brakes in the event the operator was unable to do so.

"If the engineer fails to slow down, it will provide an alarm, and if he fails to brake, it will apply the emergency brakes," a transit source said.

NTSB member Earl Weener has said the train was speeding even before the curve, traveling 12 mph faster than the 70-mph limit in a straight section along the Hudson River.

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The driver of a New York commuter train that derailed Sunday, killing four people and injuring 63, may have dozed off minutes before the horrible crash, investigators think.

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