LIRR fires engineer who let passenger drive train

LIRR engineer Ronald Cabrera was arrested on charges LIRR engineer Ronald Cabrera was arrested on charges of letting a passenger drive a LIRR train. He later accepted a plea deal, which stated only that he allowed an unauthorized person into the train's control cab. (Aug. 5, 2009) Photo Credit: Newsday / Karen Wiles Stabile

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The Long Island Rail Road on Friday fired an engineer accused of allowing a passenger to operate a rush-hour train between Hicksville and Long Island City in July, officials said.

Ronald Cabrera's termination follows a two-month internal disciplinary review by the LIRR. The railroad cited Cabrera's "failure to protect passengers, the public, his fellow employees and himself by allowing an unqualified individual to operate his train."

Cabrera's attorney, William Keahon of Hauppauge, said the LIRR's decision was an attempt by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to divert attention from its own "fumbling, inefficient and wasteful mismanagement."

Cabrera, 40, of Centereach, was immediately suspended without pay July 2 after another LIRR passenger said he witnessed an engineer allowing a passenger into the operating cab of a morning rush-hour train that day. The train originated in Port Jefferson Station.

LIRR officials said Cabrera allowed the man, William Kutsch, 47, to control the train, going as fast as 80 mph with about 400 passengers, for more than 20 miles before it arrived at the Hunterspoint Avenue station.

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Nassau prosecutors, who launched their own investigation, last month charged Cabrera and Kutsch, of East Setauket, with reckless endangerment, a misdemeanor. Both have pleaded not guilty. They face up to a year in jail if convicted.

Kutsch's attorney, Marc Gann of Mineola, said the incident had been "blown out of proportion," and that while his client had spent some time in the cab chatting with Cabrera, he never operated the train.

"I think it's unfortunate that Mr. Cabrera was terminated over something that, I think, was a perceived event, rather than something that really happened," Gann said.

Keahon said his client plans to appeal, his right under his union contract. "Upon a fair hearing, in front of an independent arbitrator, there is no question that this decision will be overturned," said Keahon, who maintains his client was always in control of the train.

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Cabrera, who has worked for the LIRR for about 20 years, will keep his pension, officials said.

Since the incident, the LIRR has reminded engineers to keep cab doors closed to avoid distractions while operating trains. All LIRR employees have been reminded that only authorized personnel are permitted in the operating cab of a train.

"The actions of this one employee do not represent the efforts of our engineers and train service employees at large who are a highly professional, well-trained and dedicated workforce," the railroad said in a statement Friday.

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