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January 21, 2010

Amtrak still won't name Aberdeen victim

It's almost a week since a man was killed on the Amtrak tracks near Aberdeen and there's still no word from the railroad's in-house police force on the victim's identity.

The Amtrak Police are the lead investigative agency in the case, but public affairs officials for the railroad were still refusing Wednesday to provide any information on the name, age or hometown of the victim -- or even to say whether the person had been identified at all. The Aberdeen police deferred to the Amtrak police because the railroad cops are running the investigation.

An Amtrak spokeswoman deflected an inquiry Tuesday, saying: "Amtrak Police informed me that the medical examiner could provide this information for you" and passed along that number.

It turned out to be a classic runaround. The Amtrak Police apparently misled the public affairs office. According to state Medical Examiner David Fowler -- the chief himself, not a flunky -- it is illegal for his office to provide that information. According to Fowler, it is the job of the police to provide identifications of victims to the public -- an assertion that squares with the practice of other police departments in Maryland.

Checking back with Amtrak, spokesman Steve Kulm professed ignorance of that practice. He said it was Amtrak police policy not to identify the dead in such cases. He said he'd check back, but as of the close of business Wednesday, he said: "I'll tell you honestly I'm not hopeful."

The flaw in Amtrak's "policy" is that there's a real dead person here. He may have been a trespasser, he may have been a vagrant, he may have been a drunk, but he had a name and somewhere he had a family.

Amtrak, of course, doesn't like trespassers  on its tracks. Perhaps the railroad prefers that when they are struck by its trains they die in anonymity, so that nobody can look into their stories and perhaps portray them as individuals with humanity. Because of the short attention span of the media, the railroad can usually count on reporters to go away after a few days.

My question is why the government would give Amtrak Police the power to investigate fatal accidents but not require the department to meet the minimal disclosure standards followed by other police agencies. Amtrak, it should be recalled, is heavily supported with taxpayer dollars -- something its police force must have forgotten.






Posted by Michael Dresser at 7:35 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Amtrak/intercity railroads


I don't think you meant to insult all the staff in the State Medical Examiner's Office but the use of "flunky" the way you used it caused me to cringe. Not trusting my memory, I checked the definition of the word. btw, I do not work in any capacity for the state. In fact, I do not work for anybody anymore since I am retired. But I don't think I would have been considered a flunky just because I was not the top person in the organization.

flunky definitions from various online dictionaries:
1. a liveried manservant: term of contempt
2. 1. a person who obeys superiors in a servile, cringing way
2. a person with very minor or menial tasks

A sycophant; a servant or hanger-on who is kept for their loyalty or muscle rather than their intellect.

One who does menial or trivial work; a drudge.

1 a : a liveried servant
b : one performing menial or miscellaneous duties

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About Michael Dresser
Michael Dresser has been an editor, reporter and columnist with The Sun longer than Baltimore's had a subway. He's covered retailing, telecommunications, state politics and wine. Since 2004, he's been The Sun's transportation writer. He lives in Ellicott City with his wife and travel companion, Cindy.

His Getting There column appears on Mondays. Mike's blog will be a forum for all who are interested in highways, transit and other transportation issues affecting Baltimore, Maryland and the region.

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