A former engineer who fell asleep at the controls of a Metro-North train and caused a 2013 Bronx derailment that killed four people and injured dozens sued the commuter railroad Thursday.
William Rockefeller, 49, of upstate Germantown, alleged in a lawsuit filed in U.S. Southern District Court in Manhattan that Metro-North failed to install a system in his train that would have automatically applied the brakes when the train traveled faster than the posted speed limits as it approached a sharp curve near the Spuyten Duyvil station on Dec. 1, 2013.
The National Transportation Board later determined that Rockefeller had obstructive sleep apnea, a condition that can cause fatigue and drowsiness. Rockefeller said that Metro North should have equipped his cab with an “alerter”, a device that would have sounded an audible tone to wake him when he dozed off.
Rockefeller could not be reached Thursday for comment.
His attorney, Ira M. Maurer, of upstate Fishkill, said his client has not worked since the accident and collects disability benefits from the U.S. Railroad Retirement Board. The board administers federal retirement benefits to railroad workers who do not receive Social Security benefits.
“He and his wife have suffered substantially,” Maurer said in an interview. “Once people become aware of all the circumstances, they won’t blame him for what happened.”
Rockefeller nodded off as the train approached the sharp curve at 82 miles per hour, according to the NTSB. The speed limit through the turn was 30 mph.
The train careened off the tracks and landed on its side just north of the Spuyten Duyvil station.
In addition to the four passengers killed, more than 70 others were injured.
No criminal charges were filed against Rockefeller, who had told investigators he felt “dazed” right before the deadly crash.
The derailment drew blistering criticism from U.S. senators and federal safety officials, who later blamed lapses in maintenance and oversights by Metro-North for five accidents that killed six people in less than a year.
In the lawsuit, Rockefeller said he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and received “severe and permanently disabling injuries”, including injuries to his left shoulder. He is seeking $10 million in damages.
“As a result of said injuries, plaintiff has and/or will suffer past and future lost wages and benefits, impairment to earning capacity, diminished pension benefits, medical expenses, pain, suffering mental anguish and depression,” according to the lawsuit.
Aaron Donovan, a spokesman for the MTA, which operates Metro-North, declined to comment on the lawsuit.