(Sumter County, Florida – March 12, 2012)
Sumter County, FL Sheriff’s Deputy Jim Smothers, a 20 year veteran of the force, was responding to a train/car accident at the dangerous, unguarded crossing of Sumter County Road 720 and CSX railroad tracks when he was radioed to return to the command center because “the lieutenant needed him” Monday morning about 8:30 A.M. south of Bushnell, FL.
What Deputy Smothers did not know was that the reason for calling him back to headquarters was the tragic fact that his wife, Kimberli Smothers, 44, was the accident victim and was recognized by the first sergeant to arrive on the scene. Deputies informed the emotionally upset Smothers of the death of his wife of over two decades once he arrived at the sheriff’s office.
U.S. Highway 301 closely parallels the CSX railroad tracks in that part of Sumter County, and County Road 720 – which, for some reason, is listed and treated as a private crossing by the railroad – ends at U.S. 301 after an approach hidden by dense trees and underbrush. The crossing has only standard railroad crossbuck, “private crossing”, and highway “stop” signs, completely lacking any automatic protection (flashing lights, bells or gates) to notify motorists of approaching trains.
As a “private” crossing, there is no federal requirement for trains to sound their horns as they approach intersections such as the one at CSX/County Road 720.
The train was carrying overseas and domestic truck freight containers from Miami, FL to Waycross, GA at 60 mph.
Jim and Kimberli Smothers are the parents of an adult son and a daughter in middle school.