By Joseph Ax
(Reuters) - A Pennsylvania judge on Tuesday dismissed criminal charges against the driver of the Amtrak train that crashed in Philadelphia in 2015, killing eight passengers and injuring 200 others.
Brandon Bostian, 34, had been facing charges including involuntary manslaughter and reckless endangerment.
Common Pleas Court Judge Thomas Gehret in Philadelphia threw out the case after a four-hour preliminary hearing, citing a lack of evidence that the crash was the result of criminal action rather than an accident.
The state attorney general's office, which had brought the case, could still seek to refile charges against Bostian.
Attorney General Josh Shapiro said in a statement that his office was "carefully reviewing the judge's decision, notes of testimony and our prosecutorial responsibilities in this case going forward."
The case has had a somewhat unusual history. The Philadelphia district attorney's office declined to prosecute Bostian after concluding there was not enough evidence to sustain charges.
But a Philadelphia municipal court judge ordered prosecutors in May to bring charges after lawyers for several victims' families filed a criminal complaint, using an obscure Pennsylvania law that allows private citizens to request misdemeanor charges against someone.
Bostian's lawyer, Brian McMonagle, said his client should never have faced charges for what was ultimately a tragic accident.
"Today the judge came to the same conclusion that was reached by the prosecutors who spent two years investigating this case," he said. "This was not a crime; this was an accident."
The train was on its way from Washington to New York when it derailed at more than twice the speed limit while going around a curve in Philadelphia.
The National Transportation Safety Board concluded that Bostian, who was not under the influence of alcohol or drugs, became distracted, possibly by radio chatter that a nearby train had been hit by a rock.
(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)