Union rep: Metro-North engineer nodded off, caught self right before derailment

NEW YORK (PIX11) – A union representative said Tuesday that the engineer of the derailed Metro-North train “nodded off” before catching himself, likening what happened to William Rockefeller to highway hypnosis experienced by car drivers.

“He basically nodded,” a union rep said. Only Rockefeller can say how long he dozed off, the rep, Anthony Bottalico, said.

Sources have said the engineer dozed off before the derailment that left four dead and injured dozens.  But the NTSB on Tuesday said it’s too early to say whether or not the engineer was conscious.

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Metro-North engineer William Rockefeller is treated at the scene of the derailment on Sunday. (David Torres)

“The sun hits you too much, you nod out and you catch yourself,” said Bottalico,  head of the  Association of Commuter Rail Employees, in trying to explain what happened. “This is a terrible tragedy, that’s what it is.”

Bottalico also said Rockefeller had undergone a schedule change, from afternoon to nights, on Nov. 17.

“He did have a change in his hours and circadian rhythms with respect to  sleep,” Bottalico said.  Rockefeller works three days during the week, and weekends.

The NTSB says  nothing was wrong with brakes or systems on the Metro-North train that derailed on Sunday morning, killing four passengers and injuring dozens.

Alcohol tests of the crew have all came back negative.

“The day was a typical 9-hour day, and these days were routine days,” NTSB member Earl Weener said of the shift worked by Rockefeller.

Rockefeller’s cell phone is being checked as part of the investigation. Three assistant conductors were on board train at the time of crash.

“This whole investigation process ends with safety recommendations,” Weener said.

The union rep defended Rockefeller, saying he has an “impeccable record.”

“I am a conductor by trade … I would have Billy Rockefeller as my engineer. I’d be proud to,” said Bottalico.

Since the derailment, Rockefeller has been sleep deprived and distraught, Bottalico said.

“He was very traumatized by everything. He was really affected by the loss of life,” he said, describing him as someone who is forthright and honest.

Bottalico said “we can’t make mistakes” in our business. The union has provided Rockefeller with counsel.

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