JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - A brush with death when jumping onto a moving train has inspired a teen with a troubled past to not only turn his own life around, but help others.
Jayzon Ahrens said he was heading back to a youth center in Jacksonville in April when he hopped onto a train near 56th and Main streets. The attempt to get a ride caused a horrible injury that cost him his foot.
The 15-year-old said the truth about what happened that night stopped him from going any further down the wrong path.
"It happened in a flash," Ahrens said. "I flipped back, I looked and in an instant, I thought, 'Hey, you might die. You need to hurry up and react and do something.'"
Ahrens says that is when his survival skills kicked in. He called 911 in excruciating pain. The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office reported his foot was found about 100 feet away.
"I know for a fact that's one of the worst pains I could ever go through and so could anybody else," said Ahrens.
Police told News4Jax that Ahrens jumped the train around midnight to make curfew at the Panama Youth Center, which was less than a mile away. But Ahrens says he was already on probation, which gave him an earlier 7 p.m. curfew, which by this point, he had missed by nearly five hours.
Ahrens told us he missed curfew "just about every day." He went on to say no one ever said anything to him about getting in late.
The teen says he was a foster child and went from group home to group home. He also says he would stay out late and get into fights.
Since the accident, Ahrens has moved in with his mother in Lakeland.
"It's pretty nice. I like it," Ahrens said.
Ahrens says that night was not the first time he jumped onto the back of a moving train. He says he enjoyed the thrill.
"You hop on the train. You're going kind of sort of fast... You see the people inside the cars -- they're all staring at you and then you're like 'Yeah, you can't do nothing boy,'" Ahrens said.
It's something he says he will never do again and hopes to keep others from trying themselves.
"I've been telling my friends: 'You shouldn't be hopping on trains -- because... I lost my foot, you could lose your life. You don't need that. You're still a decent human being inside the world. You need to fulfill what you (were) brought on this world for -- not ruin it because you wanted to have a good time and hopped on a train. It's not worth it,'" said Ahrens.
Ahrens' decision that night means he uses a wheelchair sometimes to get around. He says his family is hoping to find a doctor who will work with his insurance, so he can get a prosthetic foot.
Until then, he is thankful to be alive and making the most of it.
"Everything happens for a reason and I knew my reason was I was heading down a bad hill before this happened," Ahrens told News4Jax.
Ahrens said he now wants to be an inspirational speaker for teens to prevent them from doing bad things and says he wants to run track and box in high school, which he starts in the fall. He says later in life he wants to build prosthetics.
Ahrens also said he wants to come back to Jacksonville to visit his friends and that he wants to visit the train tracks to see the place that has changed his life forever.
"I got the rest of my body and that's all that matters. I'm not going to let some foot nor a train take my spirits away. This is my life -- not no train's, not no foot. This is my life," Ahrens said.
Teen says group home shares responsibility for accident
Ahrens says he blames management at Panama Youth Services, where he was staying at the time, as much as himself for his accident.
"If they called me in, most likely this wouldn't have happened to me," Ahrens said. "Most of the time I was walking the streets with my friends and by myself. If an officer, like, saw this child has curfew, they would have stopped me and bring me to my group home. So there's more of a chance, I would have got stopped... and this would have never happened," Ahrens told News4Jax.
The director of Panama Youth Services recently told us he did not want to speak about Ahrens' accusations, but a few weeks ago he told us curfews are generally 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and midnight on Fridays and Saturdays.
In cases where a teen has court ordered probation, that teen's curfew could be 7 p.m. He says teens who violate curfew could get privileges to use their cellphones and privileges to go on planned trips taken away.
We spoke with neighbors in the area who told us teens at the center miss curfew regularly.
The Department of Children and Families has a contract with Family Support Services of North Florida to oversee five group homes in Duval County. There are about 50 children in all of the homes.
"These are not lockdown facilities. They are not incarcerated. These are supposed to be normal living arrangements," said Charles Young, chief operating officer of Family Support Services of North Florida.
DCF does surprise inspections of the group homes and tracks violations. Since Ahrens says he partially blames Panama for his severed foot, we spoke to DCF about curfews and teens.
"They've got to be able to have lives. You want them to have normalcy. You want them to be able to have lives that are similar to teens that are with their own families, but also with that yes -- comes responsibility," said DCF spokesman John Harrell.
"They also shouldn't -- for their own safety -- be running around at all hours," Harrell said.
Harrell says they are using what happened to Ahrens as a teaching moment, telling other teens what can happen to them if they make bad choices.
Asked if he has any regrets about this, Ahrens said: "No, I don't. I've learned to accept it. It's not like I can go back in time and change what happened to me. Why think like that and be all depressed. Me, I'm not the type of person to be reluctant and think about the bad situations that happen in my life. I learn to accommodate them the best way I can. I've still got my whole life in front of me."
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