MTA to fire two in deadly accident

Train operators to lose jobs, others face discipline

teens on light rail track hit in July

December 19, 2009|By Nick Madigan | nick.madigan@baltsun.com

The Maryland Transit Administration announced Friday that it plans to fire two train operators for their roles in a light rail accident July 5 that killed two 17-year-old boys in Lutherville.

The transit agency said it had completed an investigation of the accident in which Jarrett Peterson and Kyle Wankmiller were struck from behind as they walked on the tracks.

The agency said it was "pursuing the termination" of the two train operators and will take disciplinary action against four other MTA employees. Two more employees will receive counseling letters, the MTA said.

The agency declined to provide the names of the workers or their roles in the incident, saying that personnel matters are confidential.

The MTA said it had instituted a number of changes in an attempt to prevent such accidents.

Meanwhile, a lawyer for the boys' families, who had been preparing to file suit in the accident, said Friday that the matter has been settled.

"They've made their changes, they fired the people who needed to be fired, and they settled with the families to their satisfaction," said the attorney, Jay Miller. "The MTA has sort of resolved everything at the same time."

The MTA statement made no mention of the settlement.

"The MTA is deeply saddened by this incident and continues to stress that it is illegal and dangerous to walk on or near railroad tracks, particularly in remote settings," it said. "Trains can travel at high speeds and can come from any direction at any time."

A month after the boys' deaths, a Baltimore County police spokesman declared that they had died as a result of an "unfortunate accident" and said the department would not file charges against anyone involved because it could find "no criminal wrongdoing."

The train's operator told police investigators that he did not see the two boys ahead of him on the track, even though Miller said in August that a videotape taken from the train shows the teenagers.

Miller said the MTA investigation called into question the conduct of two operators - the one whose train struck the boys and another who saw them trespassing and sounded his horn but failed to report them to the light rail's operations center.

A blood sample drawn from the train's operator about 16 hours after the accident produced "insignificant" results, according to Cpl. Mike Hill, the police spokesman.

Among other procedural changes, the accident has prompted the MTA to require train drivers to report trespassers on the tracks. In such instances, all trains in the area must travel slowly until the track has been reported as clear.

The MTA is testing equipment near the Patapsco light-rail stop that can detect trespassers on the track and sound a warning. If the tests are successful, trains will be equipped with similar equipment.

In addition, the transit agency has ordered train operators to periodically sound warning bells when trains travel in a direction that is not typical for that particular track, as was the case with the train that hit the two boys in Lutherville.

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