Night of hopping trains ends in teen's death

  • Article by: NICOLE NORFLEET , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 19, 2012 - 12:23 AM

Minneapolis boy's grieving mom hopes to warn thrill-seeking teens.

Melissa Standal tried to warn her 15-year-old son and his friends Wednesday, after she learned that they'd sometimes made a game of hopping on and off the freight trains that rumbled behind her northeast Minneapolis house.

The next night, when Christopher didn't make it home by curfew, his mother listened in horror as one of his friends confessed that they had been hopping trains when he disappeared.

Hours later, police informed Standal that Christopher's body had been found near the tracks southwest of 14th Avenue NE. and Fillmore Street NE., less than 2 miles from his home. He had sustained multiple blunt-force head injuries.

"We had talked about it before. I just wished that my son had listened," a shaken Standal said Saturday.

Her only consolation was that Christopher's death could serve as a warning to other kids.

"As sad as it is that I had to lose my son ... I hope he might save other people's lives," she said.

'I kept calling him'

The circumstances remained under investigation, but there seemed little doubt Saturday as to how Christopher died.

A railroad employee found the teen's body near the tracks about 10:20 p.m. Thursday.

That was only about 20 minutes after the last time Standal spoke with her son. He had called to ask if she could give his friends rides home when they all got back to his house after a night of hanging out.

Christopher's curfew was 11 p.m. About 10:50 p.m., with no sign of her son, Standal began to worry.

"I kept calling him and calling him, and he didn't answer," she said. "I kept texting him and texting him. He didn't answer."

At 11:47 p.m., she finally got a text, but not from Christopher. It was one of his friends asking if Christopher had made it home yet.

After driving to the home of one of the boy's friends and finding that he wasn't there, Standal called police. One of Chris' friends later informed her that he and Chris had jumped on a moving train that night, but that Chris had held on when he jumped off. The boy waited, expecting Chris to come walking back along the tracks. When Chris didn't show up, his friend tried to call him, then walked home.

About 1 a.m., police told Standal that her son was dead.

"I was in shock," she said. "I knew something was wrong, but I didn't think he was dead. I had thought maybe somebody grabbed him or something. ... I thought he maybe had been hurt."

'Did it to be cool'

On Saturday, Standal was left to describe a funny, outgoing boy with plenty of friends, and to wonder why he defied her warning.

A sophomore at Columbia Heights High School, Chris was on the track, swim and baseball teams. He dreamed of becoming a baseball player.

"He just loved baseball," Standal said.

She said she wouldn't call her son a thrill-seeker.

"He was a people pleaser. He probably did it to be cool," she said of the train hopping.

Minneapolis police spokesman Sgt. Steve McCarty said he couldn't recall any recent similar occurrences of death or injury. But train-hopping has been a well-known, and dangerous, stunt for decades.

Last fall, a 17-year-old girl train-hopping in Colorado was sucked underneath the wheels. Both of her legs were severed.

According to the Federal Railroad Administration, there were six fatalities in Minnesota last year involving trespassers on railroad property.

"It's extremely dangerous to trespass on railroad property," said Amy McBeth, a spokeswoman for BNSF Railway.

Standal gathered Saturday with family members and friends near the spot where her son's body was found.

She said she hopes other teens will learn from his brief but fatal lapse in judgment.

"They think they are invincible, but they're not," she said.

People wishing to help the family can donate to the Christopher Curtis Hanson Memorial Fund at Wells Fargo or to BNSF United Railway Federal Credit Union, 110 Endicott Building, St. Paul, MN 55101.

Nicole Norfleet • 612-673-4495 Twitter: @stribnorfleet

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