MONTREAL (AP) — Three railway employees arrested in the runaway oil train explosion that killed 47 people were arraigned and released on bail Tuesday. They face criminal negligence charges in the small Quebec town that was devastated by the horrific inferno, which led to calls for making oil trains safer across North America.
The men were arrested late Monday afternoon, about 10 months after more than 60 tankers carrying oil from North Dakota came loose in the middle of the night, sped downhill for nearly seven miles (11 kilometers) and derailed in the lakeside town of Lac-Megantic in eastern Quebec, near the border with Maine. At least five of the tankers exploded, leveling about 30 buildings, including a popular bar that was filled with revelers enjoying a summer Friday night.
Quebec provincial prosecutor's office laid 47 counts of criminal negligence, one for each person who died, against engineer Thomas Harding, manager of train operations Jean Demaitre, and Richard Labrie, the railway's traffic controller. Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway Ltd., the defunct railway at the heart of the disaster, faces the same charges. Criminal negligence that causes death can result in a sentence of up to life imprisonment in Canada.
The three men entered the packed courthouse before a crowd of journalists and onlookers, including some residents who had lost family and friends.
No pleas were entered but Thomas Walsh, Harding's lawyer, said his client will plead not guilty. The defendants were due to return to court in September.
Walsh said he had written to prosecutors several times asking that Harding to be allowed to turn himself if he was charged. Instead, Walsh said Harding was arrested by a SWAT team that swooped through his home and into his backyard, where he was working on his boat with a son and a friend. Police forced all three to drop to the ground.
"It was a complete piece of theatre that was totally unnecessary," Walsh told The Associated Press.
Edward Burkhardt, who was chairman of MM&A, declined to comment.
The railroad blamed the engineer for failing to set enough brakes, allowing the train to begin rolling toward the town of 6,000.
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