LAKELAND, Fla. (WFLA) — Earbuds are proving to be a dangerous option for pedestrians who walk near trains in Polk County.
The Polk County Sheriff’s Office is investigating an incident that left a 45-year-old man in critical condition. It is the third report of a pedestrian who was believed to have been wearing earbuds and was hit by a train.
The most recent incident happened on Tuesday, Jan. 5. Investigators say Sheldon Sharpe, of Lakeland, was seen by CSX personnel walking and approaching the tracks located at Eastside Drive south of US Hwy 92 in Lakeland, while the CSX train was in motion going eastbound at 8 mph.
The locomotive portion of the train was pushing the caboose, which has two-foot-long compartments that jut out of each side.
According to the CSX train conductor and train engineer, Sharpe appeared as if he was going to cross over the tracks, around the intersection gates that were down.
The conductor blew the train horn, but it appears as if Sharpe was struck by some portion of the train, possibly the caboose at the front.
Once the train passed the area where Sharpe was last seen, the witnesses observed him laying on the ground with multiple injuries. They stopped the train and called 911.
Sharpe was transported to Lakeland Regional Hospital and Medical Center where he underwent surgery. He is currently in critical but stable condition.
An MP3 player with a damaged earbud wire attached to it was located near Sharpe after the incident.
An interview with Sharpe’s fiancee indicates that at the time of the incident, Sharpe was walking to the store, and he frequently walks with earbuds in his ears, listening to music.
There have been two other Polk County incidents in which pedestirans who were believed to be wearing earbuds were hit by trains.
On April 20, 2015, a man was hit and killed by a train in Davenport. The Amtrak train was traveling 50 miles per hour in the southbound direction and was headed for Miami when it hit Johnathan Stewart, age 31.
The conductor blew the horn repeatedly while also applying the brakes. Stewart did not leave the tracks or make any indication that he was aware of the approaching train, according to investigators. The Amtrak engineer told deputies he thought Stewart was wearing earbuds. According to family members, Stewart often walked to work on the train tracks, listening to loud music through his earbuds.
On March 30, 2015, the Amtrak 98 Silver Meteor train from Miami to New York, made its last stop in Sebring and was heading to its next stop in Winter Haven when the engineer saw an adult male, 26-year-old Edwardo Salazar of Frostproof, who appeared to be jogging alongside the tracks on the outer wood cross beams.
The engineer blew the train horn several times, to no avail. The jogger continued on as if not hearing the approaching train. The train made every effort to alert the man and stop, but struck the man, and he died at the scene, according to a preliminary investigation. Detectives say it appeared as though he was wearing headphones.