Courts & Crime

Judge orders locomotive thief to stay away from trains

The scraggly bearded savant who stunned detectives in February when he stole an 120-ton CSX locomotive has received a befitting punishment.

Stay away from railroads, the judge ordered Brandon Dowdy.

Dowdy, who is 22 and lives in Cutler Bay, does not have a criminal conviction on his record after admitting to being the bandit, got three years of probation this month and 100 hours of mandatory community service — and the restraining order. He will remain behind bars until November.

"I think the (decision) was very fair," Dowdy wrote The Miami Herald in an e-mail. He added: "It has affected my love of trains because I can no longer work around them or participate in any activities that deal with that form of transportation."

Officials of CSX, a Jacksonville-based railroad company that operates in 23 states east of the Mississippi, did not want to talk about the decision. Spokesman Gary Sease simply noted: "This was a very serious offense."

The offense took place in February, when Dowdy was arrested on charges of burglary and first-degree felony grand theft, a crime punishable by 30 years in prison.

He had sneaked onto an empty train on a Kendall sidetrack with a friend. Then he executed an intricate series of steps to start the engine. He took CSX locomotive No. 2617 on a seven-mile joyride.

The friend, Alex Johnson-Self, told cops they were trying to get to the Redland Tavern, a dive bar in South Miami-Dade that has parking for both cars and horses. A popular house band, Big Dick and the Extenders, was playing that evening.

By the time officers found the locomotive in February, the two were long gone. It was sitting all by itself on a track that ran through a dimly lit nursery, according to a sworn statement given by Miami-Dade officer Pedro Polo. They prepared for the worst. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security was called, fearing a terrorist mastermind stole fuel with some unscrupulous plot in mind.

The fuel was still aboard the engine, so detectives concluded a person took the train for a ride. Switches to control the tracks had been broken; an air hose was missing. They found the air hose in Dowdy's Ford pickup truck after catching him driving north to his father's house in Central Florida (he often went there by train).

"He knew the workings of the locks, the switches for different tracks," Polo told prosecutors. "He knew the train. To my knowledge he knew the train backward and forward. He knew everything . . . And he loved trains."

Ryan Gustin, a special agent for CSX's security force with a knowledge of trains, was also on hand. When Gustin would describe to the officer how trains operate, documents show, Dowdy would finish his sentences.

"I was staring at them," Polo told prosecutors.