By Jessica Anderson and Carrie Wells, The Baltimore Sun
10:04 PM EDT, June 27, 2013
An Essex truck driver faces hundreds of dollars in fines but no jail time after a Baltimore County police investigation found him at fault in the Rosedale train derailment that caused a fire and chemical explosion and injured several people last month.
County police determined that the crash involving a trash truck and a CSX train was caused by "driver error" and cited John Jacob Alban Jr., 50, of the 1400 block of Sussex Road for offenses including negligent driving, which carries a $280 fine. Police also issued Alban five citations related to failing to comply with railroad signals and one citation for failing to wear his seat belt.
The traffic citations are the "most appropriate charges for the facts that we know at this time," Baltimore County State's Attorney Scott D. Shellenberger said. "Just short of us uncovering something we don't know, those are the charges that we will pursue."
Police spokeswoman Elise Armacost said that the citations resulted from "a very detailed investigation" and that "these were the seven violations the officers found appropriate." Police said drugs and alcohol were not factors in the crash.
A man who answered the door at Alban's home Thursday night declined to comment, and Alban did not return calls Thursday. An attorney was not listed in online court records.
Alban's trash truck collided with a 45-car CSX train at a grade crossing near the 7500 block of Lake Drive on May 28 in an industrial section of Rosedale, resulting in a multi-alarm fire and an explosion. The explosion was felt around the region and left several nearby buildings severely damaged and others with broken windows.
Alban was hospitalized for serious injuries after the crash and has since been released.
The National Transportation Safety Board, which is investigating the incident, found that one other person was seriously injured, suffering broken bones, and three others had minor injuries. Local hospitals treated a few related injuries, including a person hit by a falling ceiling fan, two men who suffered cuts and bruises when the building they were in partially collapsed and a female first responder whose ears were damaged.
NTSB spokesman Terry Williams said the charges won't affect the board's investigation into the cause of the crash. Officials have said such investigations can take up to a year.
Alban and his company, Alban Waste LLC, have been named in a civil suit brought by CSX in U.S. District Court in Baltimore this month. CSX alleges that Alban did not take proper care as he crossed the tracks, causing the train carrying chemicals for use in manufacturing to derail.
CSX spokesman Robert Sullivan declined to comment Thursday on the charges against Alban.
Several attorneys not associated with the case say the charges are not surprising, given what is publicly known about the incident. Security camera footage from a nearby building was released, showing that Alban did not stop at the crossing before his truck collided with the train.
"Obviously, they took time to study it, and since somebody was hurt, they would see if there were more serious charges," said David B. Irwin, a Towson defense attorney. But that didn't mean Alban would definitely face serious criminal consequences, he said.
"It's just one of those sad things," he said of the injuries and damage from the crash.
None of the offenses carry jail time, but Alban faces fines and possibly points on his driver's license, which could affect his livelihood as a truck driver, said Flynn M. Owens, a Baltimore defense attorney.
By charging Alban with negligence, the state has to prove he showed "carelessness" when he didn't pay attention briefly, Owens said.
A more serious offense would have been reckless driving, which still does not carry jail time but a higher fine of $1,000. In a case of reckless driving, Owens said, the state has to prove a motorist was driving with "willful disregard," meaning the driver was aware of the dangers but still made a "conscious decision to make this maneuver."
The most serious charge Alban faces is negligent driving, which carries a $280 fine, but a judge could raise that to $500, Owens said. The least serious is a $25 fine for not wearing a seat belt.
Owens said Alban could fight the citations in court or attempt to get the fines reduced, or just agree to pay the fines. Often, he said, defendants will appear in court, hoping the issuing officer will not show, resulting in citations being dropped.
"That certainly won't happen in this case," Owens said.
The charges against Alban include failure to stop at a railroad crossing when required; failure to stop a vehicle 15 to 50 feet from the nearest railroad crossing rail; failure to stop, look and listen at a railroad crossing; proceeding across a railroad crossing when unsafe; failure of a commercial vehicle to slow down, stop and clear a railroad crossing; failure to use a seat belt; and negligent driving.
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