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Police go tracking crossing jumpers

The big CSX Railroad train rolled through Hillsborough County on Thursday, with an engineer behind the controls and police officers peering out the window. They were looking for gate crashers _ motorists who try to beat approaching trains across the tracks, said Randy Bly, traffic safety manager for AAA Auto Club South.

As the train rumbled along, officers from four departments waited at seven intersections for cars to sneak around the warning gates.

The Officer on the Train, a nationwide program sponsored by AAA and the Florida Operation Lifesaver Council, is in response to an increase in railroad intersection accidents. It was a one-time-only trip in Hillsborough, which leads the state this year in grade-crossing accidents, Bly said.

It is illegal to pass in front of a train or bypass a gate, Bly said. But last year, 801 people nationwide were killed at railroad crossings, including 31 in Florida.

Philip E. Sutherland, 40, an emergency room doctor at Humana Hospital Brandon, was killed in March when he drove through a crossing gate and hit a moving CSX Railroad freight train.

In April, Kenneth Earle Jurnigan, 35, of Plant City, was killed when he drove around a railroad warning gate into the path of an Amtrak passenger train.

On Thursday, the patrol cars were stationed in Tampa, unincorporated areas of the county and Plant City. Officers on the train were to radio the patrol cars if they saw a crossing violation.

The train went from Tampa to Lakeland and back. Bly said he knew of only one driver who got a ticket.

"There were few violations. That could have been because there were marked police cars there," he said.