Filmmaker Faces Up to Teenage Crime

ByABC News

March 8, 2002 -- When Peter Wade was 15, he and two friends derailed a train, killing its engineer.

Now, 20 years later, he is making his youthful crime part of his first film, and the engineer's family is not happy.

"It's devastating this family all over again," said Jack Duffy, the engineer's son.

Wade, who went on to a $1 million-a-year career on Wall Street, says he is making the film in an attempt to reach out to troubled teenagers.

But Duffy and his siblings don't buy it. He says the film sends "the absolute wrong message" to teenagers: that you can kill someone at 15 and be successful 20 years later.

Kids ‘Looking for Trouble’

On the night of July 7, 1982, Wade was hanging out with four friends on a stretch of railroad tracks in Fairlawn, N.J., a small town about half an hour outside New York. Like most nights, he said, they were drinking beer, smoking marijuana and fooling around. "We were kids just always looking for trouble — bent on destruction," he says now.

Then someone suggested throwing the railroad switch, and Wade and one of the others agreed. They timed it perfectly, waiting for the train to pass the last signal that would have warned the engineer to stop. Within seconds, five passenger cars going 60 mph flew off the rails toward the wall of a factory.

The train smashed into the factory and broke up, the cars bent and twisted. There were only seven passengers and two crew members on board, all of whom survived with minor injuries. But up at the front, engineer Jack Duffy was crushed to death, his body protecting a 14-year-old boy who had been riding with him in the cab.

Wade fled the scene with his friends, but later learned of Duffy's death on the news. "It was probably one of the sickest moments of my life," he says. "I wanted to just throw up immediately at realizing what I had done."

Police arrested the five teenagers, and Wade and two others were held most responsible for the crash. He pleaded guilty to manslaughter, and served 22 months of his five-year sentence. Released from prison when he was 20, he went on to college and a Wall Street career that would eventually earn him $1 million a year as a stock analyst.

Living a Lie

On the outside, Wade had turned his life around, but inside, he says, he felt profoundly sad: "I felt like an actor — that I was there putting on a performance and that hopefully it was convincing enough that nobody would really find out who I was. Which was just a despicable human being."

To this day, he says, he has a vivid image of his hand on the switch, and wishes he had turned it the other way.

After years of intense psychotherapy, Wade decided to change his life again, and become a filmmaker. His first effort is Tracks, a feature about the story he felt compelled to tell: his own life. Wade financed, wrote and directed the film.

Tracks depicts Wade's childhood, and his victimization at the hands of his father, whom he describes as a "rageful, angry psychopath" who Wade says raped him when he was 11. When his father killed himself a year later, Wade was the one who first discovered the body.

Wade says he does not blame a troubled childhood for his crime in 1982. "The way I look at it is, when I got on those railroad tracks, it was all me and it was all my fault. But why was I out there is sort of what the movie addresses."

The Duffy children acknowledge that Wade had a difficult childhood, but say he could have found another way of helping troubled teens, such as providing housing. "Something good, not something self-serving," says Joanne Duffy. Joanne and her brother Jack — who is a train engineer like the father whose name he shares — were in their 20s when their father died.

The filmmaker denies he is trying to profit from Jack Duffy's death, and says he is trying to make something good come out of the incident. After his interview with 20/20, he told ABCNEWS that he would donate any profits from the film either to a trust fund for the Duffy family or to a charity that helps children.

He has not, however, apologized in person to the Duffys. "I don't think I have the courage to do it," he says. "I don't think I have the courage to sit in front of them and say these things to them."

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