LA Business Journal Editor Charles Crumpley weighs in this week (Sept 9-14 issue) on Metrolink's Denise Tyrrell's handling of the "who was at fault" question, under the headline: "Responsibility, Not Blame"
"I want to praise Denise Tyrrell. She was the Metrolink spokeswoman who resigned under pressure last Monday after quickly admitting that it was the Metrolink train engineer who ran a red light and caused the tragedy of Sept. 12.
I want to stand squarely in her corner for setting aside the usual evasive and lawyerly gibberish and making an honest statement.
I want to, but I can’t. That’s because, unfortunately, the situation is more nuanced.
Within 24 hours of the tragic train collision, Tyrrell met with reporters and said that barring the results of an official investigation, “We believe that it was our engineer who failed to stop at a signal.” She went on to say, “When two trains are in the same place at the same time, someone’s made an awful mistake.”
The problem with her statement is not that she put the blame on Metrolink instead of the freight train it collided with. Even within hours of the tragedy, it was clear that the Metrolink train ran the red light. Her honesty on that point was refreshing.
The problem was that she seemed to put the blame on the engineer. While he was an obvious suspect, it was simply too early to know whether he was guilty of the “awful mistake.” At that very early point in the investigation – recovery of the dead was still going on when she made the statement – there were too many questions. Was there a problem with the signal? Had there been a mechanical failure? Had the engineer suffered a heart attack? Had the train been hijacked by terrorists?
In any case, she quickly had to resign her position. Critics pointed out that she didn’t really know who or what was at fault, so she shouldn’t have all but blamed the engineer, who died in the crash. Those critics have a valid point.
As L.A. County Supervisor Don Knabe and some others have pointed out, it would have been better had she said something like: “It is clear that it was the Metrolink train that ran the red light. Exactly how or why that happened is not clear. Of course, an investigation is under way.”
Tyrrell, in my opinion, had the right impulse. She had the wrong execution.
And even though I can’t stand squarely in her corner, I will stand on her half of the ring. Any business or organization that finds itself a player in a tragedy could take a lesson from the forthrightness that she showed. Too many companies worry first about the punitive damages they face and let truth become a victim. I believe that hurts them. And it should.
I’m just speaking for myself, but if I were a juror and sat on a case in which a company was involved in a tragedy, I’d be inclined to lighten up if the business had quickly and honestly admitted its fault and guilt.
As for the company that had quickly sent out a PR robot who danced and dissembled and then later parsed the words of the investigation in full lawyerly evasiveness, I’d punish them."