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Crossing guard admits to accidentally killing gopher tortoise in Dunedin

A crossing guard turned himself in to the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, saying he was the person seen on video running over a gopher tortoise at an elementary school on Saturday.

Robert Dantschisch, 48, saw surveillance video from the sheriff's office on TV, and realized it was him. The video shows him coming to a stop when the gopher tortoise starts to cross in the parking lot of San Jose Elementary School in Dunedin. As soon as the crawling animal crossed the path of the light blue 2013 Acura TSX, Dantschisch moved forward again, bounced over the tortoise and continued driving.

Dantschisch told deputies he didn't see the tortoise before running over it.

In preparation for the first day of school, Dantschisch and his wife, Dawn, were testing out his new route to school and looking to confirm the start and end times of the school day, he told deputies.

He drove into the school's bus circle, stopping to see the times on the marquee sign. Dantschisch drove forward, continuing to look back at the sign, when he ran over the animal. He told deputies he looked into his rearview mirror and saw he struck something that he thought was a tortoise but didn't notice until it was too late. His wife told deputies the same story.

Deputies re-enacted what Dantschisch told them and determined his actions were accidental. The case is being closed and no charges will be filed.

Had the killing of the gopher tortoise, classified as a threatened species, been intentional, Dantschisch could have faced a third-degree felony punishable with up to five years in prison and fine of up to $5,000, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Fifth-grader Paul Radovanick, said "Jose" was adored by everyone. Students were confused when they noticed only his friend Sandy, another gopher tortoise, on the first day of school last week and not him. Kids were always peering through windows trying to eye the two specimens.

"Even though our mascot is the Hawks, Sandy and Jose are really our mascot," said Paul, 10, who did a project on the animals in second grade.

Contact McKenna Oxenden at moxenden@tampabay.com or (410) 258-2324. Follow @mack_oxenden

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