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Grand Jury review of Hawkins rail deaths returns no indictment

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 On August 7th, a Wood County Grand Jury returned no indictment after hearing from a number of witnesses in a review of circumstances surrounding the deaths last September of two boys on the railroad line near Hawkins.

The statute at issue was murder - Section 19.02, Texas Penal Code.

A fact summary released by the Wood County District Attorney's Office on August 9th states that on September 21st, 2006, an engineer and brakeman employed by the Union Pacific Railroad contacted the Wood County Sheriff's Office dispatcher to report that two young men had been struck by their train.

The boys were Christopher Hill, 17, and Harry Tyrone Rutledge, 15. The summary states that neither individual attempted to get off the tracks prior to impact. Both died from blunt force trauma, consistent with injuries expected when struck by a train.

No intoxicating substances were found in either young man, according to the autopsy reports.

At the time of their deaths, Hill and Rutledge were sleeping outdoors on wooden pallets in the woods near Hawkins. They had no money, no change of clothing and no food other than candy and soda.

Rutledge and Hill had formerly been resident at Azleway Boy's Ranch in Tyler. On September 16th, 2006, an employee of the boy's ranch gave a statement to the Smith County Sheriff's Office, alleging that Christopher Hill had tried to take a package of cigarettes from him. When the employee tried to stop Hill, Hill threw him over his shoulder and onto the ground, scraping the employee's knee and bruising his shoulder.

Rutledge was with Hill at the time of the incident and both ran from the scene.

The Azleway employee called the Smith County Sheriff's Office and pressed charges for robbery, a second-degree felony.

By September 20, 2006, Hill and Rutledge were listed a runaways by Smith County 911 dispatchers. According to an Azleway employee, Azleway's policy was that no physical contact be had with runaways: they were simply to be followed. Azleway reported Hill and Rutledge as runaways.

On September 21, 2006, Lt. A.J. Randall of the Hawkins Police Department called the Smith County Sheriff's Office and advised that he had recovered the bodies of Hill and Rutledge. He also requested an autopsy of both young men, requested video of the incident from Union Pacific and requested psychological and other records from Azleway.

Sworn statements taken by the Texas Rangers and the Wood County Criminal District Attorney's Office substantiate the following: An employee of the Union Pacific Railroad saw Hill and Rutledge approximately one hour before their deaths. He saw two African-American males standing alongside the tracks at about 3 a.m. It was foggy and dark. One of the males was taller than the other. One was wearing a hoodie. The young men were spotted approximately one mile east of Hawkins. No other individuals were with the young men at the time.

A three-decade employee of the Union Pacific Railroad saw two African-American males matching the description of Hill and Rutledge in Hawkins during school hours the day before their deaths. He reported that the two ran to the tracks and laid their heads next to one of the cross ties with their feet pointed away from the tracks. They were face up and side by side, and they remained in that position as the train passed above them.

Another Union Pacific employee detailed similar actions by one of the young men on a separate occasion - within 48 hours of their deaths.

On August 7th, the January Wood County Grand Jury, extended for a period of 90 days, heard from these and other witnesses and reviewed the evidence in the case. They had heard previously from law enforcement concerning the deaths of the young men.

The investigating agencies included the Hawkins Police Department, the Texas Rangers, the United States Attorney's Office, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, investigating officers of the Union Pacific Railroad and the Wood County Criminal District Attorney's Office.

Last Updated on Friday, 24 April 2009 15:27  

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