Christopher Artes, 25, and Medeana Hendershot, 22, shared a passion for illegally hopping freight trains and traveling the country without a set plan. They had spent the past several months traveling across the country, including stops in Georgia, Illinois and Tennessee. They were hoping to stop for the winter in Florida to enjoy the warm weather.
"We were always worried about him. He always made so many bad decisions," Christopher's mother, Susan Artes, told the AP. "If he got an idea and something looked good to him, he would do it. He was always jumping into situations. This particular train was one of them. I'm sure they thought the train would go from one yard to another."
Sometime over the weekend the couple were killed when their train stopped at a local Florida power plant. When the railcars arrive, they open from the bottom, releasing their cargo several stories below into a waiting truck.
As the AP reports, officials at the plant are not sure if the couple was sitting on top of the coal when another load dropped, or if they were in a railcar that was dropping its payload. But they do know that Artes died from asphyxiation--meaning that he was likely buried alive. Hendershot died from blunt force trauma to the mid-section, meaning that she likely died from falling or by having coal fall on her.
"I don't recommend it and I encourage people not to do it," said Kevin Rice, who writes about his childhood train hopping on his website. "It was a great deal of fun and adventure but we could have gotten killed," said Rice.
The practice of stealing a free ride on a railcar, or freighthopping, has declined substantially over the past several decades. Though several websites, and even this article from Mother Jones last year, discuss alleged detailed primers on how to get away with the illegal practice.
During their trip, Artes and Hendershot took advantage of some modern conveniences, even as they were embracing a form of travel romanticized since the 1930s. For example, Artes would use his cell phone to call his mother three times a week, asking for directions to local truck stops, grocery stores and other points of interest.
"If he had to die so young, at least he died at a moment where he was on top of the world," Susan Artes said.