The engineer operating the commuter train that derailed in New York on Sunday, killing four and injuring dozens, might have been asleep at the controls until seconds before the accident.
William Rockefeller told investigators Tuesday that he was "dazed" or had "highway hypnosis" until seconds before the train derailed on a 30-mph curve, his attorney told the New York Times.
Rockefeller also told National Transportation Safety Board, Metropolitan Transporation Authority and New York City police officials that he tried to stop the train in the seconds before the derailment, the attorney said.
The Metro-North train was traveling at 82 mph -- nearly three times the speed limit -- when it ran off the tracks in the city borough of The Bronx, just north of Spuyten Duyvil station on the Hudson Line.
One of the cars of the seven-car train stopped just a few feet from the Harlem River, near where it meets the Hudson River.
The Bronx is the northernmost of the five counties that make up New York City.
Rockefeller spoke with investigators after NTSB officials said they found no problems with the train's equipment, including its brakes, the Times said.
The attorney, Jeffrey Chartier, said Rockefeller was "extremely remorseful" and was cooperating fully with the investigation.
Chartier said Rockefeller told the panel that he shut down the throttle when he realized what was happening and tried an emergency braking maneuver, the Times said.
The acting head of Rockefeller's union, Anthony Bottalico of the Association of Commuter Rail Employees, said the engineer had described nodding off just before the derailment in an earlier conversation.
“People use the word ‘zoned out,’ ‘nod,’ ‘fell asleep,’ “ Bottalico said.
“I’m not a sleep expert.”
The NTSB said late Tuesday that it removed Bottalico from the investigation for discussing the case with the media.
The Hudson Line, which links the New York city of Poughkeepsie with Manhattan, 80 miles to the south, was disrupted for three days after the derailment but was fully up and running on Wednesday.
The NTSB cautioned that the cause of the derailment still had not been determined.