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New York Train Engineer Was In Hypnosis-Like "Daze" Before Fatal Crash

The engineer snapped out of the daze just moments before the deadly crash and slammed on the brakes, his attorney said. But by then, it was too late.

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The Metro-North engineer operating the train that crashed in the Bronx on Sunday experienced a nod or "a daze" just before the deadly wreck, his attorney said Tuesday.

Eric Thayer / Reuters

William Rockefeller Jr., the engineer of the Metro-North train that derailed Sunday.

Veteran engineer William Rockefeller Jr., 46, was in "a daze" as the Metro-North passenger train he was conducting early Sunday morning entered a curve at 52 mph over the speed limit and crashed, his attorney said Tuesday.

Rockefeller snapped out of the hypnosis-like daze moments before the deadly wreck and slammed on the brakes, Rockefeller's attorney Jeffrey Chartier said. Four people were killed and 67 others were injured in the crash.

In an interview with National Transportation Safety Board investigators, the engineer said he experienced a nod or "a daze" at the controls, almost like road fatigue, and he compared it to a phenomenon sometimes called highway hypnosis. He was unsure how long it had lasted.

According to The Associated Press, Rockefeller remembers "operating the train, coming to a section where the track was still clear — then, all of a sudden, feeling something was wrong and hitting the brakes," Chartier said. "... He felt something was not right, and he hit the brakes."

Rockefeller, an engineer for 11 years and an employee with Metro-North for 20 years, said he had little recollection of the crash, a law enforcement source told the Daily News.

"He had the equivalent of what we all have when we drive a car," said Anthony Bottalico, leader of the rail employees union. "That is, you sometimes have a momentary nod or whatever that might be."

National Transportation Safety Board member Earl Weener said Monday that speed was a contributing factor in the crash. The train was traveling at 82 mph entering a 30 mph curve, officials said at a news conference Monday.

It is still too early to tell whether human error played a role in the fatal train derailment, Weener said Monday. Officials are continuing to interview Rockefeller and the rest of the crew and reviewing black box data from the train. Drug and alcohol tests on the train's crew have been conducted.

On WNYC's Brian Lehrer show, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he wouldn't speculate on the cause of the excessive speed.

"There's going to be all sorts of law enforcement agencies that will be taking a look at the liability," Cuomo said. "This operator is not going to be operating a train any time soon, of that I can assure you."

But Cuomo said he wouldn't speculate on the cause of the excessive speed.

Metro-North said that Hudson Line service would resume Wednesday morning.

Michael Hayes is a senior reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.

Contact Mike Hayes at

Jon Passantino is the Los Angeles bureau chief for BuzzFeed News.

Contact Jon Passantino at

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