MONTREAL – The train engineer at the centre of the Lac-Megantic disaster investigation has finally spoken out — through his lawyer.
The attorney says Tom Harding is devastated by the events.
Lawyer Thomas Walsh said Tuesday that his client has been staying at an undisclosed location in the province, on his advice, to avoid the constant barrage of journalists at his Eastern Townships home.
Walsh said he’s hoping to get Harding some psychological help.
“I used the word ‘devastated’ and I think that’s one word that’s applicable, but he’s very, very low,” Walsh said. “We’re looking to organize something to see if he can meet with someone more professional.”
He said Harding has been co-operating fully with authorities and has given his version to authorities investigating the event.
“He was interviewed for a long period of time by the Surete du Quebec and by the safety investigators from Transport Canada last week,” Walsh said in a phone interview.
“He subsequently, on my advice, got out of circulation and the basic reason is … I felt that he had to get some place where he wasn’t going to be constantly faced with journalists.”
Walsh said Harding’s family and his union are providing support — but not his employer.
He said the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway had not shown any since the accident.
Harding’s role is a central question in ongoing investigations into the tragedy; his own company called him a hero one day, then announced the next that he had been suspended amid concerns about his role in the disaster.
One key question is whether the veteran railman applied the appropriate number of hand-brakes before ending his shift for the night.
Harding had finished work and left the train unattended to sleep at a local inn shortly before it barrelled into town and exploded, killing an estimated 50 people.
In interviews, witnesses have shared details with The Canadian Press about that night.
A local cabbie who picked up Harding from work said the idling train was expelling more smoke than usual. He remembered seeing oil droplets landing on his car, then asking Harding twice about it. He said Harding responded that he’d followed the proper procedures before he retired to the inn.
An inn employee where Harding stayed said the engineer had a look of terror on his face as he bolted from his room upon hearing the explosion.
And a man said Harding later helped a group of locals who worked to detach some of the tankers that didn’t overturn. He said Harding’s knowledge helped them depressurize the train’s airbrakes, which enabled them to move some of the cars to safety.
Harding has not spoken publicly about that night.
The idea of making any kind of public statement is not something Walsh has raised with his client.
“I would actually advise him not to,” Walsh said.
“I think we’re better to let the dust settle and find out the specifics from the investigators — maybe if there are some specifics, he might want to respond to them.”
Walsh, a Sherbrooke, Que.-based attorney, says he was hired by the family last week.