A passenger train derails in North Philly. Many are dead. Many more are injured. And blame is placed on the train's engineer, who is criminally charged with causing the disaster.
Those gut-wrenching facts are etched into Philadelphia's history. Now, they are also plot points in Philadelphia personal injury lawyer William L. Myers Jr.'s novel, An Engineered Injustice, which he loosely based on the crash of Amtrak Train 188 in the city's Port Richmond section.
Less than three years after the May 12, 2015, crash that killed eight people and injured more than 150, Myers, of Wayne, based his second novel on the deadly disaster. But is it too soon?
"It is a fresh event, it still resonates with me, and it still upsets me that this happened, but at the same time and for the same reason, it's also timely," he said. "I just remember vividly what a war scene that looked like, … It was like hell happened all of a sudden."
Myers, 59, a Lancaster native who obtained his law degree from the University of Pennsylvania, has been an attorney since 1983 and has a practice on the 1500 block of Market Street.
He's been writing for as long as he can recall, but about six years ago he sat down to write "a commercially viable novel."
"I had written novels before, and I'd show them to my wife and she'd say, 'Bill, this is terrible,'" he said. "I said, 'OK, I'm going to prove to you I can actually write a novel."
So he did. His first published novel, A Criminal Defense, was the sixth-best-selling Kindle eBook on Amazon in 2017. The story, also set in Philadelphia, is about a young reporter, the businessman accused of her murder, and the lawyer who defends him.
Myers, who practices civil law, said he likes to write about criminal law, where "the stakes are higher and there might be some danger involved."
One of Myers' niche practices is representing railroad workers and those injured in train crashes, and his brother is an Amtrak track man. The night of the derailment, Myers — who isn't representing anyone involved in lawsuits related to the crash — was on the phone with two engineers who had done the same run hours before, just to try to figure out what might have happened.
"One of the things that really struck me was how fast a rush to judgment there was against that engineer in that accident," he said. "I started a book about a major train crash based on that crash and a couple others around the nation that looked like from the outset the engineer had to have screwed up, it had to have been his fault, but then as the story unfolds and the layers of the onion become unwrapped, you learn it likely wasn't the engineer's fault."
When it comes to Brandon Bostian, 34, the actual engineer of Train 188, the verdict is still out. The train was traveling at 106 mph, more than double the speed limit, when it hit the Frankford Curve and derailed, but the National Transportation Safety Board found that Bostian did not have drugs or alcohol in his system and may have been distracted by reports of rocks being thrown at other trains.
Bostian was initially charged with eight counts of involuntary manslaughter, more than 200 counts of reckless endangerment and a single count of causing a catastrophe, but a Municipal Court judge threw those charges out in September, believing a hearing showed the crash was an accident, not a crime.
But the state Attorney General's Office appealed the ruling and in February a Common Pleas Court judge reinstated all the charges against Bostian. He remains free on bail.
As for Myers, he doesn't see himself retiring from law, even if his books are being shopped around for a possible television series by an agency in California.