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06-10-05, 09:36 PM
Train employee claims he was wrongfully arrested

By: Nancy Flake, Courier staff06/09/2005

A Conroe man who works as a locomotive engineer is claiming he was wrongfully arrested by the Montgomery County Sheriff's Department for not presenting his driver's license after a car ran into his train early Monday morning.

Gregory Stokes, 28, was arrested for failure to identify himself and for interfering with an investigation after the incident, when the train he was operating for the Timber Rock Railroad out of Silsbee was hit by a car as the train sat in a crossing at FM 149 and Shannon Crossing in west Montgomery County, according to Lt. Dan Norris with the sheriff's department.

Some time around 2 a.m., the 3,000-foot freight train, carrying 9,000 tons of loaded rock, according to Stokes, approached the crossing as it was headed toward Conroe. "We came up on the crossing and the gates were not down," Stokes said. "The lights were flashing and the bells were operating."

As required by federal law, Stokes stopped the train and its two conductors got out to alert any automobile traffic. With all four engines past the crossing and two freight cars sitting in it, the conductors waved the train through after seeing no approaching traffic. Just as the train was again on its way, it was hit by a 1990 station wagon of unknown model, according to Officer Michael Bellard of the Montgomery Police Department. "We started again and I was waved through when he hit the train," Stokes said.

Fortunately, the driver of the car was not injured and refused medical care, according to Bellard, who was working the scene along with sheriff's deputies. "It was his fault," Bellard said of the driver. "The lights were flashing."
When sheriff's deputies arrived on the scene, Stokes provided them with all his information, but would not present his driver's license. "All I had to do is present my engineer certification card," he said. "I wasn't driving a motor vehicle. The conductor's in charge of the train and he wasn't asked to show his driver's license."

Stokes, who moved here recently from Utah with his family and said he has worked with railroads off and on for 10 years, said he explained to deputies why, according to federal law, train conductors and engineers are not required to show driver's licenses when an accident occurs. "The driver's license number gets put on the accident report," he said. "My personal insurance reflects that I have had a major accident and my rates go up."
Stokes claims that when he refused to give his driver's license, the deputy handcuffed him and arrested him. A Texas Department of Public Safety trooper who was also called out to the scene told deputies to take the handcuffs off Stokes and advised them that he was not required by law to produce his driver's license, he said. "I heard the trooper say to them, 'If you do this, you're opening up a can of worms,'" he said.

Sgt. Jovon Reed of the DPS Conroe West office, confirmed that a trooper was on the scene and that a train engineer or conductor is only required by federal law to present his engineer's card. "Per any peace officer's training, the peace officer should know that is the identification he or she should be requesting," Reed said. "He did advise the sheriff's department of that fact."

Two conductors also identified Stokes, as did a representative of the railroad, who arrived on scene. Because Stokes could not move the train after his arrest, he said, another crew had to be brought in, which delayed the train another two hours.

Stokes was then taken to the Montgomery County Jail and booked on a charge of failure to identify, a Class B misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $2,000, up to 180 days in jail, or both. He was also charged with interfering with public duties, also a Class B misdemeanor. Bond was set at $1,500, which Timber Rock Railroad paid, but Stokes sat in the jail for hours until he was processed and booked, he said.

Norris said Stokes refused to produce his engineer card until after his arrest. "Once he was placed in custody, that's when he wanted to produce his engineer card," he said.

According to Norris, the deputy asked Stokes several times for his identification. "The deputy told him he was violating law and interfering with the investigation," he said. "Even though the other railroad personnel encouraged him to comply, only when he was told he was under arrest did he want to produce his card."

And, Norris noted, the deputy's reported states, "The DPS officer believed the deputy acted appropriately."
"My understanding is that under federal law he's only required to show his engineer card," Norris said. "He only provided it after he was arrested. Once we tell them they're under arrest, we are not under any obligation to release that person because he wants to comply."
Reed said he did not know if Stokes presented his engineer card "after the fact." However, when told the deputy's report stated the DPS trooper believed the deputy acted appropriately, Reed said, "My trooper did not acknowledge the sheriff's office as following proper procedure in accordance with the law.
"I don't know why that is in the report."

Officials with Watco Transportation in Pittsburg, Kans., the owner of Timber Rock Railroad, said they are looking into the incident. "We always want to cooperate with law enforcement," said Carlton Kennard, assistant general counsel. "As I understand the facts, we believe our engineer acted appropriately. A lot of times, local law enforcement doesn't understand these guys operate under federal law. I know he did not want to produce his driver's license. What happens when an officer fills out a motor vehicle report, if it's not read closely, it may end up showing as an accident under their driver's license number.
"It's a very hard thing to change."

Stokes, the father of two young children and one due in less than a month, wants an apology from the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office, and wants the arrest expunged from his record. He may also pursue legal action, he said.
"As an engineer," he said, "we've always been ingrained not to show our driver's license because it can come back to haunt us."


06-10-05, 09:52 PM
Sounds like the can of worms the Trooper predicted. I think the whole thing pivots on whether or not he showed his engineer card before or after arrest or whether he was given an opportunity to show it at all before arrest. He may have a case.

06-10-05, 10:14 PM
Sounds like he actually got arrested for C.O.B., C.O.C., P.O.P.O, et al.

If that is so, then the county will be paying out some bucks.

06-10-05, 11:15 PM
I would just go to my MDC and get all his DL info I needed.