MONTREAL — The former train engineer recently acquitted of criminal negligence in the Lac-Megantic railway disaster apologized Monday in a rare public statement since the 2013 tragedy that claimed the lives of dozens in the small Quebec town.
With visibly quivering lips and flanked on each side by his lawyers, Tom Harding read a short, prepared statement in French and in English before the cameras.
"I do not find the words sufficient to express my sympathies," said Harding, who was found not guilty Friday along with two former railway colleagues of criminal negligence causing death.
"I am deeply sorry for my part of responsibility in this tragedy. I assume this responsibility and I will always assume it."
Harding became the public face of the Lac-Megantic disaster after it was revealed the train engineer didn't apply sufficient handbrakes on the oil-laden convoy before leaving for the night.
The train moved on its own in the early hours of July 6, 2013, barrelled into the town, derailed and exploded, killing 47 people and destroying part of the downtown.
On the ninth day of deliberations, the 12 jurors found Harding, rail traffic controller Richard Labrie and manager of train operations Jean Demaitre not guilty.
"I want to thank everyone who encouraged me throughout the process with letters and cards," Harding said. "And, finally, I want to thank my legal team."
Thomas Walsh, one of Harding's lawyers, shielded his client from reporters' questions after he read the statement.
"The whole thing is too touchy, really — trust me," Walsh said in response to a reporter who wanted to ask Harding a question directly. "Mr. Harding has been through a lot, it's very difficult for him to find any kind of words."
The Crown had argued that Harding's role was significant because he didn't apply a sufficient number of brakes after parking the convoy for the night.
Harding's defence team had argued his actions were not a marked departure from standard company procedures and, therefore, he couldn't be held criminally responsible.