Feds investigating death of MARTA contractor

ATLANTA — Channel 2 Action News and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution have learned the National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the death of a contractor on a MARTA rail line earlier this week.

On Sunday night, 38-year-old Robert Smith was working on a rail line near Medical Center Station when he was struck by a northbound train.

Smith, an employee of Cleveland Electric Co., was in his work vehicle at the time.

Smith's family attorney told Channel 2 Action News the group is glad to see the launch of the independent investigation.

“They’re very confused about what happened and want answers about what happened,” said Rudjard Hayes. “The downside of that is that they’re (NTSB) notoriously slow and they don’t give a lot of information very readily. But the upside is that they will do a thorough investigation and we’re glad that they’re involved.”

Hayes represents the widow, two young children and other surviving family members of Robert Smith.

A MARTA spokeswoman said the agency is fully cooperating with the federal investigation.

"I do feel it was avoidable," Hayes told Channel 2 Investigative Reporter Nicole Carr. "There was human error involved and we want to get to the bottom of that -whether it was solely human error, whether it was mechanical error or anything else involved, we will find out."


On Friday, MARTA confirmed the National Transportation Safety Board is also investigating the incident.

Channel 2 Action News learned of the federal probe through an open records request denial on Friday to our partners at the AJC. The agency's legal department confirmed NTSB involvement when it declined to provide an incident report and other material related to the ongoing investigation.

The NTSB is an independent federal agency that investigates every civil aviation accident in the country, as well as significant accidents on the nation’s railroads, highways, waters and pipelines.

In April, the agency found that the Georgia Department of Transportation’s decision to store combustible material beneath I-85 contributed to the fire that destroyed a section of the highway in Buckhead last year.

In 2000, it investigated the deaths of three MARTA workers who were hit and killed by trains in two separate incidents. One of the cases led to MARTA paying a multi-million dollar settlement.

Hayes noted the Smith family’s request for privacy during a difficult grieving period.

“He was a wonderful guy. Jovial. Outstanding guy in his community, and it’s just a horrible, horrible tragedy,” Hayes said.