RIGA - The engineer accused of negligence which caused a tragic train collision near the Central Railway Terminal in Riga in February last year plead guilty at the Riga Regional Court on Oct. 2. Engineer Sergejs Ribacoks had earlier denied his guilt. "I was scared," he said. The indictment claimed Ribacoks had failed to notice a red light, a violation of railway transport safety and operation regulations.
Ribacoks told the court that he may have been sleepy at the time of the accident due to the monotonous driving. "I was at my workplace together with the assistant," said Ribacoks.
When the train left the previous station, Vagonparks, the traffic signal was yellow, which meant it would soon be followed by a red signal.
"I am very sorry about what happened," he said.
The mother of a passenger that died in the accident said she was sure Ribacoks was not in the engineer's cabin at the time of the accident, as he was later found between the cabin and passenger's saloon. "You were trying to escape, you were not in your place," she said.
Ribacoks had claimed he had been in the driver's cabin throughout the incident.
Ribacoks accepted the civil claims for compensation from the victims of the accident, amounting to 200,000 lats (288,000 euros), but said that he was only able to pay about 100 lats as he was unemployed at the moment.
At the request of Ribacoks' lawyer Osvalds Svilans, the court supplemented the case materials with a note that Ribacoks has a wife, an under-aged daughter and a father, who is a pensioner in need of special care, as well as a reference from his previous employer.
Court debates on the case were held on Oct. 3.
Several employees of the railway company Latvijas Dzelzcels said that ignorance of the red light had been the cause of the collision. Experts also found out that the system had been operating well. This contradicted the claim of former railway employee Tekla Ernica, who had claimed at court that she had been near the place at the moment of the accident and there had not been a red signal on the traffic lights.
A technical investigation of the Lielvarde-Riga train proved that the train had been in good condition before the collision.
The collision of two passenger trains happened on Feb. 2, 2005, shortly before 11 a.m. near the Central Railway Station. An electric train coming from Lielvarde to Riga collided with an empty Moscow-Riga train. Four people died in the accident, including the engineer's assistant. Thirty-two others, including a 13-year-old boy and 6-year-old girl, sustained injuries.
Under the Latvian Criminal Law, the punishment for violation of railway transport safety and operation regulations with grave consequences is three to 15 years in jail.