Bosses of Texting Engineer Are Accused in Rail Crash
Published: January 6th 2008
Source: New York Times - By REBECCA CATHCART
LOS ANGELES — Supervisors of an engineer who had been text-messaging when he drove a commuter train into an oncoming freight here in September had been warned that he often used his cellphone while on the job, but they did nothing about it, lawyers for 15 survivors of the crash said Tuesday.
Twenty-five people were killed in the accident, and more than 130 injured. Investigators have said the engineer, Robert Sanchez, who was among those killed, sent a text message just 22 seconds beforehand.
The plaintiffs’ lawyers said at a news conference that a co-worker of Mr. Sanchez had told managers at Connex Railroad, a contractor that provides engineers to the commuter line, MetroLink, that Mr. Sanchez frequently used his cellphone while on duty, in defiance of company policy.
R. Edward Pfiester Jr., a lead lawyer in the case, said he had spoken to the co-worker. “This person,” said Mr. Pfiester, “called upper management and said: ‘You’ve got to stop this. Someone is going to get hurt.’ ”
The employee placed at least two calls to managers from July to September, Mr. Pfiester said. In addition, he said, the employee told him that on a routine inspection two months before the crash, a supervisor caught Mr. Sanchez violating the policy barring engineers’ use of cellphones while on duty. Still, he said, the engineer was never punished.
Kelly Smith, a spokeswoman for Connex’s parent, Veolia Transportation, would not comment Tuesday, and a lawyer for the company could not be reached. Another Veolia spokeswoman, Erica Swerdlow, has said in the past that the company has policies against engineers’ using cellphones while on duty and that the rules are strictly enforced.
The accusations made by the lawyers Tuesday are included in an amended lawsuit filed Monday on behalf of their clients. The seven defendants include MetroLink, Connex and Veolia.
Mr. Pfiester said his source for the information was a Veolia employee who did not want to be identified at this early stage, “for fear of being fired.” But, he said, he will seek a sworn affidavit from the employee later, as well as a subpoena for company documents.
Among others at the news conference were Richard Myles, a plaintiff, whose neck was fractured in the crash. Mr. Myles, 58, was also on a MetroLink train that crashed into an S.U.V. in 2005.
“I’m really angry to be subjected to a life-threatening situation twice,” he said.