December 4th, 2013
12:31 PM ET

Union Rep.: Engineer Was 'Nodding Off'

The engineer who was involved in Sunday's New York train derailment apparently "was nodding off and caught himself too late" before the accident that killed four people and injured 67 others, a union representative who has been meeting with the man told CNN on Tuesday.

Anthony Bottalico, the union representative, said engineer William Rockefeller Jr. recognizes his responsibility in the incident.

"I think most people are leaning towards human error," Bottalico said.

Rockefeller's lawyer, Jeffrey Chartier, characterized what happened as "highway hypnosis." He said his client had had a full night's sleep before the crash, and that Rockefeller had no disciplinary record.

In a brief conversation with investigators, Rockefeller said that moments before the derailment of the Hudson Line train in the Bronx he was "going along and I'm in a daze. I don't know what happened," according to a law enforcement official familiar with that conversation.

Asked by investigators what he was thinking when he said he was dazed, the engineer said he couldn't say. Rockefeller spoke to Metropolitan Transportation Authority and New York Police detectives at the crash site before he was taken to the hospital Sunday.
National Transportation Safety Board member Earl Weener told a news conference that Rockefeller would have had a chance to get the necessary sleep prior to his 5 a.m. shift the day of Sunday's accident, echoing comment from Rockefeller's lawyer.

According to NTSB representatives, results from alcohol breath tests for the train engineer were negative, and both the brake and signal systems in the deadly Metro-North accident appeared to be working. Other toxicology results have not yet come back.

Former NTSB official Peter Goelz weighed in on the  investigation on Wednesday's "New Day."

David Rangel runs the nation's premiere railroad training school. He says "We have seen some railroads that will certify locomotive engineers in as little as 40 hours, which is kind of scary in my mind." Rangel says that "daze" sometimes comes from switching night shifts to day, like Rockefeller did a few weeks ago.

See Chris Lawrence's full report about who may be driving your train and how skilled they really are:

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