Christopher Artes and Medeana Hendershot, a couple who romanticized trains and lived a modern-day adventure by riding railroad cars across the U.S., were killed when a train dumped its load of coal on them at a Florida power plant.
Workers discovered the bodies of Christopher Artes, 25, and Medeana Hendershot, 22, this Sunday.
Though it’s unclear exactly how the young couple died, officials guess that Christopher Artes was buried alive and Medeana Hendershot was crushed to death by the weight of the coal.
Sometime over the weekend, the train pulled into the city of Lakeland’s power plant in Central Florida.
As the rail cars arrive, the bottom opens and cars drop coal several stories below onto a waiting truck.
Officials were not sure if the couple was sitting on top of the coal or were riding in an empty car and dropped onto a mound of coal, then hit or buried by another load.
Christopher Artes died from asphyxiation, meaning he was likely buried alive. Medeana Hendershot died from blunt force trauma to her middle section.
As a teenager in suburban Maryland, Christopher Artes had an illegal and dangerous kind of wanderlust – hitching rides on trains.
Over the summer, he fell in love with Medeana Hendershot, who shared his passion.
The couple travelled from Georgia to Chicago, then back to Tennessee, with Christopher Artes sending his mother pictures along the way.
They wanted to spend winter in Florida because it was warm.
“If he had to die so young, at least he died at a moment where he was on top of the world,” said Susan Artes, Christopher’s mother.
Christopher Artes was adopted when he was 5 days old. Growing up, he had dyslexia and other learning disorders, but he was a sweet boy, his mother said.
The boy was later diagnosed with bipolar disorder but didn’t like taking his medication. He used drugs and drank, but his mother said he had been clean in recent months.
In high school, Christopher Artes embraced the punk rock scene and met some “traveller kids”, his mother said. He started to dress in black and had a lot of different hair styles and colours.
It was then Christopher Artes began climbing aboard freight trains for short trips, either to get around, or for the experience.
This summer, with his girlfriend, Christopher Artes embarked on his longest trip yet, with no set plans other than the adventure.
Kevin Rice, from San Luis Obispo, California, who writes about his train hopping adventures from 20 years ago on his website, said:
“I don’t recommend it and I encourage people not to do it.”
Kevin Rice, 43, listed the dangers of riding the rails: falling off the car, getting robbed by a vagrant, being jolted or crushed when the train’s slack lessens.
He said he has heard of many different freight-hopping deaths, but nothing like the case of Christopher Artes and Medeana Hendershot.
Christopher Artes’ mother said her son had a train-hopping manual, but it was stolen at some point.
Susan Artes described her son as naïve and trusting. When he and Medeana Hendershot were in Miami several weeks ago, a trucker with whom they had caught a ride with stole Christopher Artes’ backpack.
“We were always worried about him. He always made so many bad decisions,” Susan Artes said.
“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.”
Medeana Hendershot’s family couldn’t be located for comment.
The last time Christopher Artes spoke with his mother was last Saturday. He had been up north.
He told his mother he was in Georgia on his way to Florida because the weather up north was too cold.
Christoper Artes’ funeral will likely be next week in Maryland.