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Train-hopping boy found dead 43 miles from home

January 22, 1997

MILLEN, Ga. (AP) _ An 8-year-old boy who clutched a freight train ladder for 43 miles may have jumped or fell from exhaustion and died of exposure, authorities say.

Carlos Wilson of Millen hopped a grain car while playing with friends Sunday. A search party using dogs found his body Tuesday about 20 feet from the tracks east of the tiny town of Oliver.

``He held on for at least an hour to a ladder,″ Jenkins County Sheriff Bobby Womack said. ``Poor little thing must have been terrified, with all the noise and the cold.″

Carlos was probably alive when he jumped or fell, but faced overnight temperature in the 30s while wearing only jeans, sneakers and a short-sleeved shirt, Womack said.

``It looked like he tried to scratch a little nest in the broomstraw to keep warm,″ the sheriff said. ``He’d taken his shoes off and his heels looked like he’d scratched down into the dirt. I think he must have died of shock or exposure, because he just had one little cut on his head.″

The body was sent for an autopsy.

Three older friends said they and Carlos were climbing car ladders while the Norfolk-Southern train was stopped at a switching area. The other boys jumped off when the train pulled out.

``They were yelling at Carlos to jump, but he was probably scared,″ Womack said.

The next stop for the train, which had a top speed of under 45 mph, was 75 miles away in Savannah. The search did not begin until hours later, when Carlos’ mother questioned her son’s playmates and learned what happened.