In the pre-dawn hours of August 23, 1987, a seventy-five car, 6,000 ton cargo train made its regular night run to Little Rock, Arkansas. The train was over a mile long and was traveling at a speed of fifty-two miles per hour. So far, the run had been clear sailing, as engineer Stephen Shroyer approached the small town of Bryant, Arkansas. Suddenly, while going through the town of Alexander, he saw something in his path; he could not tell what it was. As his train drew closer, he made the horrifying discovery that two boys were lying motionless across the railroad tracks.
They placed the train into an emergency stop position and laid down on the horn. However, they were unable to stop it in time. Within about three seconds, they hit the boys. Stephen noted that although three seconds does not seem like a long amount of time, it felt like an eternity for them. The weight of the heavy cargo train carried it for a full half mile. The boys’ bodies were terribly mangled.
The two boys were identified as sixteen-year-old Don Henry and seventeen-year-old Kevin Ives. They were best friends and popular seniors at the Bryant, Arkansas high school. It seemed difficult to believe that they would lay on the tracks without moving a muscle, while a huge freight train was hurtling towards them blaring its horn. The state medical examiner, Dr. Fahmy Malak, said they had been under the influence of marijuana and ruled the deaths accidental. Their parents could not accept that ruling. They began a crusade to find out what really happened and salvage the reputation of their sons.
Kevin’s father, Larry, could not believe that Kevin was knocked out on marijuana or into any kind of heavy drugs because he was usually home when Kevin would come home from school and his mother, Linda, was home at nights; they had never seen him “spaced out” or seen any signs that he was into drugs. By all accounts, Kevin and Don were both typical teenage boys. They loved to work on their cars and hunt. Don was a natural comedian and Kevin was his best audience.
On most weekends, the two double dated. However, on the night of Saturday, August 22, 1987, Kevin and Don met a group of friends on the outskirts of Little Rock at a favorite gathering place for the local teenagers. The two left around midnight to go back to Don’s house. Kevin waited on the porch while Don went inside to talk to his father, Curtis. Curtis recalls that Don came into his bedroom at around 12:15am. He said that he and Kevin were going to go out hunting. He took Curtis’s spotlight and took his own .22 rifle. They talked for about fifteen minutes before he left.
Kevin and Don set off to go spotlighting, a form of night hunting which is illegal in Arkansas. One of them would shine a light in the animal’s eyes, transfixing the prey while the other fired. Spotlighting was a fairly widespread activity among the local boys. So far, Kevin and Don had avoided being caught. That night, they chose their usual hunting ground, along the railroad tracks that ran behind Don’s house. By then, it was almost 1am. Curtis was not worried about them going into the woods because he did not think they would get in trouble.
Three hours later, Stephen Shroyer’s locomotive came speeding down Bryant Hill. When they were about six poles away from Kevin and Don, his conductor yelled out “big-o” and he immediately realized that there were bodies on the tracks. To him, it looked like they had been laid out by someone. They were lying exactly parallel on the tracks; their legs were across the rails, their torsos were between the tracks, and their arms were straight down by their sides. They were partially covered by a light green tarp. Lying parallel to both of them was Don’s .22 rifle. Neither of them were moving. When Stephen laid down on the diesel horn, he got no reaction from them. The train then went over them.
What had caused Kevin and Don to lie side-by-side on the railroad tracks? The state medical examiner, Dr. Malak, concluded they had smoked the equivalent of twenty marijuana cigarettes. He determined that they had been in a deep sleep induced by the “psychedelic” effects of the drug and had never heard the oncoming train. He ruled their deaths an accident. Their parents would not accept Dr. Malak’s conclusion.
Linda wondered, if they were that stoned, how were they able to lie down in identical positions? That was her immediate reaction to the ruling. Curtis had the train’s sound checked and found that it was ninety-eight decibels, which is equivalent to the sound of a jackhammer or an air compressor running. He does not believe that anyone could sleep through that kind of noise. He also points out that Don’s gun was laying on the gravel. He does not believe Don would do that because he would not want the wood getting scratched.
Kevin and Don’s families hired a private investigator to try and figure out what happened to them. However, he repeatedly received resistance from authorities, who seemed unwilling to cooperate or change their opinions about the case. As a result, the families were not able to move forward with their investigation. Five months after the deaths, Kevin and Don’s parents held a press conference. They hoped to force the authorities to reopen the investigation. The plan worked. The day after the conference, the investigation was officially reopened.
Newly appointed prosecutor Richard Garrett had Kevin and Don’s bodies exhumed for a second autopsy to be performed by a noted expert. This doctor concluded that together, they had smoked not twenty, but between one and three marijuana cigarettes. Friends who were with them that night confirmed this amount. He also found evidence to indicate that one of them was already dead and one unconscious when the train hit them. Furthermore, he found evidence that Dr. Malak did not follow proper procedures when conducting the autopsies. Other medical experts and researchers stated that it was highly unlikely, if not impossible, for a person to pass out from smoking marijuana. It seemed especially unlikely that it would happen to two people at the same time. In July 1988, a grand jury reversed Dr. Malak’s original finding of accidental death and officially ruled their deaths “probable homicides”.
Garrett then focused on the green tarp. Neither Kevin nor Don owned such a tarp. Who had covered them with it and why? All four of the people on the train who were able to observe the scene prior to the accident stated that the bodies were partially covered by the green tarp. Police who searched the scene later denied that Stephen had even told them about the tarp. According to Stephen, they questioned the existence of the tarp. He felt that was like questioning the existence of the bodies on the tracks. He was certain that the tarp was there. Garrett also believes that the tarp existed. However, it was never found.
The ensuing investigation unearthed an intriguing lead. One week before Kevin and Don were killed, a man wearing military fatigues had been spotted in the vicinity. His behavior had aroused suspicion. When police officer Danny Allen stopped to question him, the man opened fire. By the time Allen got up from his seat, the man was gone. Five minutes later, Celine County officers showed up. They searched the area but were unable to find the man. On the night Kevin and Don died, witnesses again reported seeing a man in military fatigues. This time, he was leaving town, heading down a road less than 200 yards from the spot where the bodies were run over. Police have been unable to locate him.
Six weeks after the investigation was reopened, Garrett came up with a strangely similar case. In Hogden, Oklahoma, just 200 miles west of Little Rock, two young men, Billy Hainline and Dennis Decker, lying together on the railroad tracks had been run over by a locomotive in 1984. They were lying motionless on the tracks, in a position nearly identical to Kevin and Don’s.
Garrett believes that Kevin and Don were murdered. He believes the assailant(s) incapacitated one of them, and then, felt like they had to do something to the other one. To cover their tracks, they laid them on the railroad tracks and covered them up with a tarp. He is not sure why someone would do that, however.
Prior to working on this case, Garrett never carried a gun. However, since he started working on it, he has carried one. He feels that his life could be in danger. Kevin and Don’s parents are determined to continue working on and investigating the case until it is solved. They have spent many hours at the spot where they were killed, wondering how it could have happened. They believe that Kevin and Don walked up on something that they were not supposed to see; they were at the wrong place at the wrong time.
Suspects: A week before Kevin and Don were killed, an unidentified man wearing military fatigues was spotted in the vicinity of the tracks. His behavior had aroused suspicion. Police officer Danny Allen stopped to question him. Suddenly, he opened fire on Allen. The area was searched, but he was never found. On the night Kevin and Don were killed, witnesses again saw the man in military fatigues. This time, he was leaving town, heading down a road less than 200 yards from the spot where Kevin and Don were later hit. Police have been unable to locate or identify him.
Police speculated that Kevin and Don’s may have been related to drug trafficking. Several witnesses who testified before the grand jury were charged with drug trafficking and other offenses. However, no suspects were identified.
In June 1988, a local man came forward, claiming that on the night of the murders, he saw two police officers beating two boys senseless in a store parking lot before tossing them into a police car and driving away. The officers later returned to the scene without the boys. It is not known if the boys were Kevin and Don.