Jury awards train accident victim's parents $2.7M

17-year-old struck by train, killed in May 2008

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Wesley Whiddon

CLAY COUNTY, Fla. - A Clay County jury has awarded the parents of Wesley Whiddon Jr. a $2.7 million verdict in their wrongful death lawsuit against CSX Transportation.

The 17-year-old Fleming Island High School football player was struck and killed by a CSX freight train in May 2008 as he stood on a railroad trestle over Black Creek.

Two other teens jumped clear of the train. Whiddon hesitated. The three were fishing prior to the accident.

The jury returned the verdict late Tuesday after more than three hours deliberations.

It found CSX 60-percent liable for the tragedy, and Whiddon 40-percent liable. The trestle was posted with a "no trespassing" sign. The lawsuit claimed the train engineer saw the three boys 34 seconds before the impact, yet never braked until after Whiddon was struck.

The suit also contended the train was going 15 mph faster than federal guidelines because a safety device at the rear of the train was not operational.

The estimated speed of the train at the time of the accident was about 45 mph.

"While we respectfully disagree with the decision, we very much appreciate the jury's hard work on this difficult case," CSX said in a statement. "Regardless of fault, the death of Wes Whiddon was a complete tragedy, and we offer our sincere condolences to his family and friends."

Video of the accident was played in court as evidence.

Last Thursday morning, the train's conductor, Davis Jones, took the witness stand.

"I thought it took forever for that train to stop," Jones said. "It seemed like it was never going to stop. And once it stopped, I got off the train and I ran to the back to see if I could help the boys, and the boys were really shook up back there. And I tried to calm them down, quiet them down, but I was shook up as hell. And I went up to check his pulse and I realized he had died."

The death of the well-liked Fleming Island High linebacker sent shockwaves throughout Clay County when it happened four years ago. His family, especially his mother, is still devastated by the accident.

In court, she told the jury about when she found out what happened to her firstborn son.

"I can remember being on the ground in the Winn-Dixie parking lot in Argyle," Angela Whiddon said. "I pulled the car over and I was laying on the ground."

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