Former Amtrak locomotive engineer Jacob Keating said he can’t work and can barely think since a pack of West Sacramento gang toughs beat him seven years ago on the other side of the I Street Bridge. He said he is anxious and stressed, weak and confused – and he’s blaming Amtrak for his miseries.
For two days, Keating testified in Sacramento Superior Court about the 10:15 p.m., April 16, 2007, attack on the westbound Capitol Corridor in his negligence and strict-liability civil suit against Amtrak. He told the jury the beating left him “degraded.”
“I just don’t feel like I’m the whole man I used to be,” Keating told the jury of the long-term effects of the gang assault. “I feel like I’ve failed, like I’ve blown it, that I don’t have the full capacity that I did before.”
Keating, 42, wants upward of $2.5 million in lost earnings as well as pain and suffering damages.
Four members of the Broderick Boys street gang were convicted in the Keating beating, but Amtrak maintains the engineer was the “sole cause” of his injuries when he left the train to confront his assailants.
During his cross-examination Tuesday, attorney Vincent Castillo of the Amtrak defense team prodded at inconsistencies between Keating’s civil trial testimony and his sworn statements from the criminal proceedings against the Broderick Boys.
The engineer admitted to the discrepancies, most significantly, the timing of when he first saw the attackers – after he stopped the train to go onto the tracks and yell at a trespasser to get off them, or sooner, like right after somebody hit him with a rock thrown through his open train window.
Keating said he was mistaken when he testified in the criminal proceedings that he saw the gang member as soon as he got off the train.
“I’m human,” Keating testified, when Castillo pressed him on the errors. “Humans make mistakes.”
Keating testified in the civil trial that his main concern in leaving the train was to get the trespasser off the tracks.
“I’ve seen brains on the windshield,” he told the jury. “I didn’t want to run this person over. It’s not my job to kill people.”
He said when he first went onto the bed of the railroad track, he didn’t see anybody other than the trespasser, and that there’s no way he would have started anything if he knew a gang of drunken youths who had just stolen beer and booze from a neighborhood market were lurking in the vicinity.
“No, I’m not stupid,” he testified, under questioning from one of his attorneys, Larry Lockshin of Vallejo.
Keating said after he yelled at the trespasser, “I heard obscenities, obnoxious language, yelling.”
“Rocks started flying in the air towards us,” he testified.
He and other railroad employees fired back with the projectiles, Keating testified, before he ducked and made a move toward the door to get back on the train. When one of the youths with a large rock in his hand made a move toward his conductor, “I struck him in the face,” he said.
In the frenzy that followed, Keating testified he wound up outside the train, alone, surrounded by the gang members and terrified when the door closed behind him.
Keating said he thought to himself, “They’re going to kill me.”
The gang members punched and kicked him and hit him with a vodka bottle and a fire extinguisher that one of Keating’s fellow Amtrak employees had used to spray the attackers. Keating said he balled up in the fetal position.
“I thought I was going to die,” he said.
He said he had a vision of his wife holding his daughter, before he heard a woman yelling at the Broderick Boys, “Stop, stop. That’s enough,” he testified. The attackers ran off, he said, but two of them came back and slugged him some more and demanded his wallet, before somebody opened the door and pulled him back on the train.
His student engineer drove the train into the Sacramento Valley Station. An ambulance transported Keating to UC Davis Medical Center where doctors closed two gashes in the back of his head with 11 staples and treated him for assorted other injuries.
Since the attack, Keating said he has been subject to paranoid fears and bloody and violent nightmares. He said he has isolated himself inside his house, closing the blinds and staying home most of the time, sometimes in bed almost all day.
“I turned into a whole different person,” Keating testified.
Keating said he still has headaches and sometimes they hurt so much “I thought my head was going to explode.”
He underwent a spinal fusion surgery.
A former handyman around the house who once jack-hammered away an entire backyard patio, Keating testified he’s no longer capable of doing his own construction projects. He said he can’t even climb a ladder to change a battery in a smoke detector.
“I’m afraid I’ll fall off,” he said.
Playing with his baby daughter became a problem, he said.
On cross-examination, Castillo, the Amtrak attorney, questioned Keating on why he cursed the trespasser, and he sought to elicit testimony from Keating that the engineer had other options besides going down from his cab for a confrontation, like calling the police or sounding his horn.
“I didn’t feel it was necessary to wake up the neighborhood at that time of night,” Keating responded.
Keating has not worked since March, 2010, when somebody flashed a laser into his engine compartment on his way through West Sacramento on a Capitol Corridor run to Oakland.
He admitted he hasn’t made a huge effort to find another job.
“I don’t know what I’m qualified for,” he said.
The trial is expected to wrap up next week.
Call The Bee’s Andy Furillo, (916) 321-1141. Follow him on Twitter @andyfurillo.