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DA: Passenger Operated LIRR Train

MTA police arrest LIRR engineer and passenger on charges of reckless endangerment

MINEOLA, NY - Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice announced today that Metropolitan Transit Authority police have arrested an East Setauket man for allegedly operating a New York City-bound Long Island Rail Road train during the July 2 morning rush hour.  Also surrendering to authorities Wednesday morning was the train’s engineer who allowed the passenger to operate the diesel-powered, double-decker train from Hicksville to Hunters Point in Queens.

William Kutsch, a 47-year-old New York City court reporter, and Ronald Cabrera, 40, an LIRR engineer for the past 16 years who lives in Centereach, have each been charged with Reckless Endangerment in the Second Degree, a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail.  Cabrera has also been charged with a misdemeanor charge of Official Misconduct.  They surrendered to MTA police Wednesday morning and are expected to be arraigned on the charges Wednesday in First District Court, Hempstead. 

Rice said that during her office’s two-week investigation, MTA police and Nassau prosecutors spoke to multiple eyewitnesses who reported seeing Kutsch enter and exit the single-occupancy cabin of the 6:45 A.M. Port Jefferson branch train heading towards LIRR’s Hunters Point Avenue station in Queens.  Witnesses also reported seeing Cabrera in plain view standing in the aisle, instead of being seated at the controls.  Rice said that an LIRR conductor observed Cabrera in the aisle while someone else was seated behind the controls driving the train.  The train used that morning only has space for one person behind the controls.  The person behind the controls must be driving because the train does not have an ‘autopilot’ feature. Rice said that the controls on the train require an operator to be in constant contact with the train’s “dead man’s pedal” or the brakes will engage, and the train will come to a stop. Rice said that the lack of an autopilot feature and the requirement that the dead man’s pedal remain depressed, coupled with the eyewitness testimony, confirms Kutsch was operating the train.  Kutsch does not possess an engineer’s license and has never received formal training in how to drive a train.

Rice said that the LIRR conductor who saw Kutsch behind the controls in the train’s cabin assumed he was an authorized trainee under the supervision of Cabrera. 

“We have built a very strong case,” said Rice.  “We can prove that the cabin only has space for one person and that the passenger went in and out of the cabin right before and right after the train’s trip.  We can also prove that the train needed a foot on the safety pedal to operate and that the train’s engineer was outside of the operator’s cabin during the whole trip.  On top of that, we have witnesses who report hearing the passenger make incriminating statements after the train arrives in Hunters Point.  People on the train and in the communities along the tracks deserve to know someone’s being held accountable for this unimaginably reckless act.”

Rice said that during the investigation authorities were able to confirm that the 500-ton, diesel-powered train reached a top speed of 80 miles per hour and passed over seven car crossings, one pedestrian crossing, and 24 home signals before reaching its destination. Rice said that the speed and potential obstacles on the track are critical pieces of evidence establishing that the defendant’s reckless actions created “a substantial risk of serious physical injury” to those on the train and in the communities surrounding the tracks.

Authorities do not know the details of the relationship between the two men in custody, but Rice said that Kutsch is a regular on the railroad.  Rice said that her office believes the train was carrying nearly 400 riders during the incident. 

Handling the case for the DA’s office are Assistant District Attorneys William Wallace and Andrew Weiss.  Kutsch is being represented by Peter Thomas,, Esq., of Flushing.  Cabrera is being represented by William Keahon, Esq. 

Rice gratefully acknowledges the assistance of investigators from the LIRR, MTA Police, the MTA Inspector General’s Office, and the Federal Railroad Administration in the joint investigation.

The charges are merely accusations and the defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.