“Certainly, we want to make sure that that operator is disciplined in an appropriate way. There’s such a gross deviation from the norm,” he said.
An attorney for Rockefeller didn’t immediately return calls Tuesday, but his union spoke up in his defense.
“Once the NTSB is done with their investigation and Billy is finished with his interview, it will be quite evident that there was no criminal intent with the operation of his train,” Bottalico said.
Rockefeller, 46 and married with no children, has worked for the railroad for about 20 years and has been an engineer for 11, Bottalico said. Rockefeller lives in a well-kept house on a modest rural road in Germantown, N.Y., about 40 miles south of Albany.
He started as a custodian at Grand Central Terminal, then monitored the building’s fire alarms and other systems, and ultimately became an engineer.
“He was a stellar employee. Unbelievable,” said his former supervisor, Michael McLendon, who retired from the railroad about a year ago.
McLendon said he was stunned when he heard about the crash, shortly after opening his mail to find a Christmas card from Rockefeller and his wife.
“I said, ‘Well, I can’t imagine Billy making a mistake,’” McLendon said. “Not intentionally, by any stretch of the imagination.”
Rockefeller’s work routine had recently changed. He had begun running that route on Nov. 17, two weeks before the wreck, said Marjorie Anders, a spokeswoman for Metro-North’s parent, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
Bottalico said Rockefeller had changed work schedules — switching from afternoons to the day shift, which typically begins at 5 a.m. — but was familiar with the route and qualified to run it.
In case of an engineer becoming incapacitated, the train’s front car was equipped with a “dead man’s pedal” that must be depressed or else the train will automatically slow down, Anders said.