Train trestle is magnet for daredevil teens Youths undeterred by boy's death

July 21, 1992|By Edward L. Heard Jr. | Edward L. Heard Jr.,Staff Writer

The 50-foot-high trestle crossing the Patapsco River off the 200 block of River Road near Oella is a popular spot for teens looking to show their courage as they scamper along the railroad tracks. For others, it's a shortcut to swimming and fishing.

But railroad officials warn of the danger of walking along the tracks.

The warnings apparently go unheeded.

William David "Billy" Griffith, 11, fell to his death from the trestle Sunday afternoon while returning from a swimming excursion.

Yesterday, children still played along the steel beams that border the railroad tracks. Below them, large rocks jutted from the shallow water.

"We do it for fun because there's nothing else to do," said Lisa Morris, 16, of Ellicott City. "It's a test to see how much scariness you can take."

Her friend, 16-year-old Allan Jenkins of Columbia, agreed. He said the railroad tunnel at the end of the 80-yard trestle "is dark and fun."

"It's like a haunted house," he said.

Allan and Lisa were balancing themselves along the steel beams of the trestle, showing a bold and youthful disregard for danger.

"I don't think the general public is aware of how easily a train can surprise them. Sometimes it has a quiet approach," explained Jay S. Westbrook, a spokesman for CSX Transportation Inc. "You get caught off guard with little time to escape.

"Trains are simply unable to stop in the time they see pedestrians and the time they reach that location," Mr. Westbrook said.

In 1991, 521 people were killed in the United States while trespassing on railroad property, according to the Federal Railroad Administration. Two of those deaths occurred in Maryland.

Sunday, Billy Griffith and his two brothers, Ian, 20, and William, 12, were crossing the tracks on their way home after swimming nearby when a coal train suddenly came roaring up from behind.

In a moment of panic, Ian and William, who both were farther up the track, jumped out of the train's path to safety. Billy jumped to the steel beams alongside the tracks. He narrowly escaped being hit by the train, but apparently lost his footing and fell among the rocks in the river below, according to Baltimore County police.

John Smialek, the chief state medical examiner, said yesterday that Billy suffered serious head wounds and a broken neck.

Yesterday, Rick Griffith, Billy's father, sat in his home in the 1600 block of Bedford Road in Glen Burnie and spoke fondly and with great emotion of his son. He had just come from making funeral arrangements.

Billy was "a happy-go-lucky kid" who had always wanted a family of his own, said Mr. Griffith, who adopted Billy four years ago from the St. Vincent's Center in Timonium.

Billy was the third of four sons adopted by Mr. Griffith and his wife.

The father described his son as an enthusiastic young boy with many interests. Billy liked soccer and lacrosse, art and music, Mr. Griffith said. But most of all, Billy was deeply grateful for having a family. "He's one of the few people who truly had his dream fulfilled before he died," Mr. Griffith said.

Mr. Griffith said the swimming area the boys visited Sunday was about 10 miles from their home. He said the boys were due home about 6:30 p.m. They were en route to their car about 5:30 p.m. when they encountered the train from Cumberland that was bound for Baltimore.

Mr. Griffith said Ian used the trestle route several times in the past but had never come across an active train.

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