Canadian crash train engineer is witness, not suspect: lawyer

Tue Jul 16, 2013 12:29pm EDT
 
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By Peter N Henderson

(Reuters) - The engineer of the runaway train that exploded in a small Quebec town, killing 50 people, is a witness rather than a suspect in the investigation of the disaster, and is devastated by what happened, his lawyer told Reuters on Tuesday.

Lawyer Thomas Walsh said the engineer, Tom Harding, has spent 10 hours talking to police, and three or four talking to investigators at the Transportation Safety Board of Canada, who are probing the causes of the July 6 calamity in the town of Lac-Megantic, North America's deadliest rail accident in more than 20 years.

"When he was interviewed by the police my understanding is that he was interviewed as a witness," Walsh said in a telephone interview from Quebec. The procedure for interviewing someone as a witness differs from those considered suspects, he added.

"If they are seen as a suspect then they have to be advised of that, and they have to be given certain constitutional warnings," he said.

Harding, the sole operator of the crude oil-laden train, was supposed to have set enough hand brakes to prevent its five locomotives and 72 tanker cars from moving when he parked them some 8 miles uphill from the tiny lakeside town of Lac-Megantic at the end of his shift late on July 5.

But in the early hours of the next day, the train started rolling downhill, and derailed and exploded in the middle of Lac-Megantic, flattening dozens of buildings in the little lakeside town near the Maine border.

"Since he (Harding) was more closely involved as the conductor, the person who's responsible for the train, obviously he's very very affected ... He's devastated by it," Walsh said.

The head of Montreal Maine & Atlantic Railway, which operated the train, said last week he believed the train's hand brakes had not been set properly. Walsh described the comments as "very premature" and said the various investigations into the disaster should be allowed to do their work.   Continued...

 
An emergency worker stands on the site of the train wreck in Lac Megantic, July 16, 2013. REUTERS/Ryan Remiorz/Pool