Man charged in light rail crash at BWI

Former MTA worker accused of reckless endangerment

Tested positive for cocaine

22 passengers hurt after derailment at airport in February

July 06, 2000|By Marcia Myers | Marcia Myers,SUN STAFF

The light rail operator who tested positive for cocaine after his train crashed at Baltimore-Washington International Airport in February was charged yesterday with a single misdemeanor count of reckless endangerment.

Sam Epps Jr., 53, of the 3900 block of Forest Park Ave. in Baltimore, received a criminal summons shortly before noon.

Epps, a 25-year Mass Transit Administration veteran, was fired four days after the accident after acknowledging he had taken the prescription painkiller oxycodone without notifying superiors as required.

A day later, results of a toxicology test showed cocaine in Epps' system. Anne Arundel County prosecutors said yesterday that drug charges against Epps were not an option.

"You have to have possession of drugs to charge someone, and no cocaine was found on him," said spokeswoman Kristin Riggin.

The endangerment charge carries a penalty of up to five years in prison or a $5,000 fine.

Epps and 22 passengers were injured Feb. 13 when the train broke through a barrier at the airport station in Linthicum, slammed into a bumper and derailed. Three of the passengers received life-threatening injuries; others were treated for fractures and cuts.

Although no lawsuits have resulted from the accident, MTA spokesman Anthony Brown said yesterday that 20 claims for damages have been filed through the agency's insurance claims office.

Craig Gendler, a Baltimore lawyer representing Epps, declined to comment on the charge. Efforts to reach Epps at his home were unsuccessful.

Epps was hired to drive buses for the MTA in 1974 and transferred to the light rail in 1993. After testing positive for cocaine during a random drug check in 1994, he completed an employee rehabilitation program and returned to his job.

Passengers on the train operated by Epps on Feb. 13 later described him as inattentive, and some said he appeared to doze off at the controls.

When first questioned, Epps denied taking cocaine. But during questioning by investigators for the National Transportation Safety Board in March, he admitted using the drug late on the Friday before the accident to relieve pain from oral surgery. He described rolling two wet cotton balls in cocaine powder and placing one in each corner of his mouth to numb his gums. He could not remember how much he used but denied smoking the drug, injecting it or ingesting it through his nose, according to investigators' reports.

Preliminary reports from the NTSB bolster the theory that human error was responsible for the crash rather than mechanical problems. The signal and brake systems appeared to be working properly, according to the reports.

Despite Epps' positive drug test and widespread publicity about it after the crash, a miscommunication between MTA police and the Anne Arundel County state's attorney's office delayed criminal action against Epps.

Prosecutor William Roessler said MTA police never mentioned anything about cocaine.

His office failed to subpoena the drug test results - the only way to obtain them under federal law.

After the accident, MTA conducted a review of its drug and alcohol policy, operator license procedure and training program. Recommendations were forwarded in late March to State Transportation Secretary John D. Porcari, who said at the time he expected to announce new policies within 30 days. "Discussions with employee groups are continuing," said the MTA's Brown.

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