Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2018 - 28
The 1931 derailment in Drexel, North Carolina was caused by a few rocks placed on the tracks.
Sentence for Causing a Trainwreck:
Tonsils and Adenoids Removed
A 6-year-old in Burke County, North Carolina in 1931 may not have realized
what an enlightened punishment he received for a derailment that injured
four, ripped up some 100 yards of track and cost about $15,000 to repair.
by Christy Traylor
The tragedy of a train derailment on
April 23, 1931 in Drexel, North
Carolina was not as bad as it might
have been: four injured but no one
killed, and some 100 yards of track
ripped out of the ground.
What compounded the aftermath
of the incident was that the wreck
had been caused by a 6-year-old boy.
The investigation determined
that Charlie Whitener, Jr., had put
rocks on the railroad tracks. Charlie
lived with his mother, who worked
at night and was not able to properly attend to her son. His father was
serving a jail sentence and was thus
not in the home.
At about 4:15 in the afternoon
of April 23, Charlie placed the rocks
and hid behind a fence to get ready
to watch as the train, travelling
nearly 60 mph, approached. The
conductor failed to see the rocks and
the train derailed and overturned.
Whitener confessed and was
quoted in the local paper: "It was a
lot of fun seeing the cars pile up and
the steam coming out. I laughed
about it, just like I did when I
wrecked my toy train."
Four people were taken to the
hospital with injuries, but no one
was killed. It was estimated that repair costs would be $15,000.
The sheriff's investigation found
another child witness who had seen
Charlie place the rocks.
Spokespeople from the railroad
concluded that Charlie was responsible, but they did not want to pros-
ecute him. They wanted only to
keep him away from the railroad,
as his mother's home sat on a bank
right by the tracks.
Charlie went before Juvenile
Court Judge Bowers with a social
worker. The social worker informed
the judge that Charlie needed his
tonsils and adenoids removed. With
the approval of three railroad representatives, Charlie's mother and his
grandfather, the judge included the
removals as part of Charlie's sentencing. In addition, Charlie would live
with his grandfather, a well-respected
farmer, until his father was out of jail.
Charlie would then go from
hanging out on the railroad tracks
to learning farming skills from his