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Secret Service agent causes nearly 2-hour Metra delay, passenger search

(The following appeared on the Chicago Tribune website on January 15, 2009.)

CHICAGO The suspicious person who caused an unscheduled, nearly two-hour stop for a Metra train Wednesday morning and a search of its passengers was a U.S. Secret Service agent.

Metra spokeswoman Judy Pardonnet said the incident began when a plainclothes Secret Service agent asked a Naperville ticket agent whether there were metal detectors aboard the Burlington Northern Santa Fe line train and indicated he was carrying a gun.

"He did not identify himself as any type of law-enforcement officer. That concerned the ticket agent," Pardonnet said.

But Kristina Schmidt of the Secret Service office in Chicago said a preliminary review showed the agent had acted properly and identified himself to the ticketing staff.

Schmidt said the agent noticed the Metra employee's eyes go to his waist and look at his service weapon as he was taking out his wallet to buy a ticket.

"He verbally identified himself as law enforcement and said that he was armed," Schmidt said. "That was pretty much the extent of their conversation."

Assuming all was fine, the agent boarded the train, she said.

The express train departed the downtown Naperville station at 8 a.m., then made an unscheduled stop in Lisle. Lisle police boarded the train and searched cars before finding the man.

The agent again identified himself, Schmidt said, not realizing his interaction with the Metra employee had led to the train being stopped.

Metra trains began running again at 9:40 a.m., Pardonnet said.

Pardonnet said the Secret Service agent had never taken the train before.

"Apparently, he was unfamiliar with the system," she said. "He was riding it today because it was snowing."

Friday, January 16, 2009

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