Bosses of texting engineer are accused in
Published: January 6th 2008
Source: New York Times - By REBECCA CATHCART
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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
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
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
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.