“Ghost Trains,” “Hilltoppin,” and “Spooklights” Can Be Dangerous for Teens!

Tragic news filtered through the newspapers and internet in 2012 about two young girls killed in Butler County early this morning. All the more tragic were the circumstances. According to reports, the teenagers were playing “Ghost Train” at a railroad crossing near Poplar Bluff in southeast Missouri. While I have blogged about “Hilltoppin” in Missouri, “Ghost Train” is a new teen phenomenon to me.

According to reports, the tale is that a train derailed many years ago, killing nearly everyone aboard. The story might possibly just be folklore because neither the exact time nor date of this crash could be found. As well, there are gruesome stories about decapitations and ghosts still searching for body parts if you were brave enough to sit in the dark, shut your engine off, and listen while at a railroad crossing. The tale claims that the brave drive onto the train tracks, let the windows fog up, and wait for the ghosts to tap on the window. Further rewards for the brave are the alleged ghost sightings, so why would teenagers engage in this practice?

The game or a version of the game occurred in 2010 involving about a dozen men. The men were standing on a train trestle in North Carolina playing “Ghost Train” when a real train rounded a bend. Most of the men got off the track, but a 29 yr-old man was struck and killed.

According to officials and news reports from early Tuesday morning, the 1995 Jeep parked on the railroad tracks reportedly would not start when the Amtrak train approached. Three teens got out, but two panicked and couldn’t unbuckle their seat belts. One returned and unbuckled the other girls and was still inside the Jeep when the train slammed into it. Two fatalities resulted from the train crash. What a nightmare!

Think back. Did you always think rationally when you were a teenager? The teenage years are a time of rebellion and self-identification as well as peer pressure. While the practice of “Ghost Train” sounds crazy to most, I think of the mystical “Hornet Spooklight” when I was growing up in southwest Missouri. However, to see the “Spooklight,” one only needed a designated driver, some alcoholic beverages, and a few hours parked on a gravel road south of Joplin, Missouri. I have been to the Spooklight and thought I saw it. But then everyone thought they saw it. Possibly it was because we wanted to see it and just be involved in the local legend and folklore. It was more about traveling and having a good time with my other teenage friends. We are fascinated by the macabre, teenagers especially when life is new and seemingly yawning out in front of them. Sitting on the side of a dirt road is far less drastic than sitting at a railroad intersection, hoping that a train doesn’t come. Like all parents, I’m hoping that whatever popular folklore is around when my little girl becomes a teenager involves such a passive activity as sitting on a non-traveled country road. Parents cannot predict or even always know what teenagers are thinking. The tragedy early this morning was the story of fun with friends that went terribly wrong.

I’ll be honest….. I may have done this while a teenager in rural Missouri. I didn’t always think safely when I was a teenager and took many risks. Am I better for the risks I took, or am I lucky to be here? I think that is what most adults think when they objectively look back on their teenage years. I hate to turn into that “old guy” that is ceaselessly sending caution, but the practices of “Ghost Train,” “Hilltoppin,” and drinking and driving are just irresponsible at any age. While we understand teenagers and why these practices may seem like a good idea when with buddies at midnight, encourage your teenagers to think before engaging in these practices.

Daily, I represent victims of serious accidents where they were practicing good judgment, but their life was seriously changed due to the negligence of another. Then, when I hear about dangerous practices such as “Ghost Trains” and “Hilltoppin,” I cringe. In this story, Amtrak had 188 passengers and a dozen crew members that could have also been injured. When I see accidents and the devastation they cause daily, irresponsible behaviors really hit a nerve for me.

But how can your heart not go out to the victims’ families? A 15 yr old and a 17 yr old were killed, and another 15 yr old was hospitalized in critical condition. Coroner Jim Akers said, “It’s hard to convince kids not to do the foolish things kids do….They think they’re indestructible”. Akers went on to say, “It’s horrible. I really don’t have words yet. I wish I had some smart, poetic way of saying something to stop kids from doing things like this”.

Do we want to change the curious nature of teenagers? Absolutely …….not. But as adults, we have to come up with ideas to help teenagers spend their leisure time. As parents, we have to supervise our children. Where is the fine line between supervising your children and keeping them from danger while letting them experiment with making decisions? I’m not sure. I’m not a parental expert. I’m learning as I go, as are all other fathers. I’m sure that the girls’ parents were mortified to discover this practice happened or had happened before.

To say that this recent tragedy is “unfortunate” is putting it mildly. What is the point of talking about such a tragedy? Awareness…..awareness….awareness. When adults or teenagers hear about the tragedies that occur with such practices as “Ghost Trains” or “Hilltoppin”, hopefully, they will reflect and think about the loss of life before engaging in such an experiment. Our sympathies and hearts go out to the family and friends of these teens.

As personal injury attorneys, we represent victims in accidents resulting in serious injuries. But another important aspect of what we do is raising awareness of dangers and promote safe practices. If you need an attorney, we are always there for a free consultation at (314) 276-1681, but if you have ideas on how to better promote safety, please contact us as well.

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The Cagle Law Firm serves accident and injury clients throughout St. Louis and the greater St. Louis metropolitan area, including the eastern Missouri and southern Illinois communities. If you or a loved one needs legal assistance with your personal injury case, call The Cagle Law Firm at (314) 276-1681 or use our online contact form to schedule a free consultation.

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