A railroad engineer and the passenger he allegedly let drive a commuter train carrying almost 400 riders during rush hour at speeds of up to 80 mph are facing reckless endangerment charges. The engineer has also been charged with official misconduct.
Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice announced the charges Wednesday against passenger William Kutsch and engineer Ronald Cabrera. The men's actions created "a substantial risk of serious physical injury" to riders and people in the communities the train passed through, she said.
"It's just unconscionable that you could take that many lives in your hands," she said. "The amount of tragedy that could have resulted, you can't even quantify it. It's staggering."
Rice's office started investigating after receiving reports that Kutsch, 47, had been in the control cabin of the New York City-bound train on the morning of July 2. Witnesses told authorities that Cabrera, 40, was standing in the aisle instead of driving the 500-ton diesel-powered, double-decker train.
Rice said that train didn't have an autopilot function and required someone to be at the controls in the cabin to keep the train from stopping. Another Long Island Rail Road employee who saw Cabrera outside the cabin assumed a trainee was driving, she said. Kutsch, a court reporter in New York City, does not have an engineer's license or any training in driving trains.
The reckless endangerment charge is a misdemeanor that carries a penalty of up to a year in jail. Peter Thomas, Kutsch's attorney, said his client was "confident he'll be vindicated."
William Keahon, Cabrera's attorney, declined to comment.
The train passed over multiple car crossings and one pedestrian crossing, and Rice said Kutsch was at the controls for 24 miles.
The LIRR said disciplinary proceedings against Cabrera are under way and could result in termination. He was removed from service the day of the incident after the commuter rail found out about the allegation.