CONWAY — Sean Studler performed a song with his church youth group in Conway that Sunday morning, then came home, put in his Beats earbuds and took a walk.
His parents said he never heard the train coming.
Sean, 17, was walking west on the north side of the railroad tracks just west of the Salem Road overpass on April 20 when the train hit and killed him.
He lived in the HomeTown neighborhood, 415 yards from the overpass in west Conway, with his father, Bruce Studler, and sister, Sydney. Sean’s stepgrandfather, Abe Lehman, lived next door.
Sean’s mother, Marjorie Studler of Pennsylvania, who is temporarily staying in Conway, said, “He was struck by the train and knocked out of the way.”
Marjorie said Sean was walking alongside the tracks, not on them, and that the train didn’t drag him, as some news reports have stated.
“That’s completely false,” she said.
Faulkner County Coroner Patrick Moore confirmed that; he said the train engineer did, too.
“He was walking on the end of the railroad ties on the outside of the track there, and that was consistent with point of impact on the train, part of the structure on the right side on the front of the engine,” Moore said.
The impact threw Sean about 25 yards, Moore said.
Marjorie said that when she was visiting a few weeks ago, he took her and his sister to the train tunnel, where he liked to walk and listen to his favorite older hip-hop music — loud.
“He was cautious; he wouldn’t walk on the tracks,” she said.
The day of the accident, “he had his headphones on, and when he had his headphones on, he had them turned all the way up,” Marjorie said.
She said her son hadn’t learned to drive, only because he “hadn’t gotten around to it.” Although he was diagnosed with attention deficit disorder in elementary school, Marjorie said, “he seemed to have outgrown it.” She said that had nothing to do with the accident.
Lehman, Sean’s stepgrandfather, was told of the accident first because Sean’s father and sister weren’t home. Lehman had to tell his stepson about Sean.
“It wasn’t an easy day,” Lehman said. He said Sean was a “good basketball player and a good person.”
Lehman said there is easy access from the Studlers’ backyard to the elevated railbed.
Lehman said he and others in the neighborhood recall hearing the train’s whistle blow a warning, “two short honks, repeated — double short honks.” A witness saw the train slowing down, Lehman said.
Moore said the train crew saw Sean.
“The personnel on the train saw him up ahead of them, walking. … They radioed into their dispatch that there was somebody walking on the track,” Moore said. “They saw him; it might even be a quarter of a mile. They were slowing down, blowing the horn.”
Marjorie said she and Sean’s father don’t blame the train engineer.
“I’m sure he did everything he could do to prevent it from happening,” she said. “I actually feel bad for whoever that is because they have to carry that with them the rest of their life. It’s not like any of us are upset or angry. … It was an accident.”
Her son wasn’t trying to commit suicide, either, she said, which is something people have suggested.
Moore said he would expect someone trying to kill himself to be walking in the middle of the tracks, not beside them.
Pedestrian-train accidents aren’t common, said Moore, who has been the Faulkner County coroner for 25 years.
“We’ve had a few over a quarter of a century,” he said.
The toxicology results aren’t back, Moore said, so the autopsy report is “pending.”
Marjorie said her son grew up in Virginia and moved to Conway when he was 10 or 11. He was in the 10th grade at Conway High School.
“He was a very sweet, loving boy,” Marjorie said.
His 15-year-old sister, Sydney, said she and her brother were close.
“He was like my best friend,” Sydney said. “He was extremely protective of me — very protective.
“There’s a tunnel that me and him would go to. It’s on the train tracks, and it’s this huge tunnel. He would listen to his music and walk around mostly, talk on his phone.
“He was outgoing; he had a lot of friends. He loved to make people laugh. He would do anything to make people laugh.”
Marjorie said one of his teachers wrote on a sympathy card that “his laughter was contagious; he made everyone in the class laugh every day.”
Marjorie said her son was active in Calvary Church and “extremely passionate about basketball.” He played for the Conway Kings Organization in 2012-2013 and was on the Arkansas Legends team this year.
His former basketball coach, Bill Hollomon, remembered Sean fondly.
“He was just a great kid, loved the game of basketball, loved to learn. He came, practiced hard, always gave 110 percent every day and had a jump shot that you couldn’t forget — it was a high, arching jump shot that you never forget,” Hollomon said.
“We joked about it when he was on the team. It doesn’t matter when he gets put in the game; he’s going to put his shot up, and he’s going to make it. I enjoyed coaching him.”
Bruce Studler said that at the memorial service for his son, who was cremated, Sean’s basketball teammates stood and made remarks about Sean.
“I think that really touched a lot of people,” Bruce said. “None of them were asked to do that; it wasn’t a plan. I thought that was really nice of them.
“The consensus was that he was really a fun guy to be around, actually a mentor for the younger guys in the league.”
A banner with the words “We (heart) U Sean #RIP” was hung on the Salem Road overpass.
“We’re still not exactly sure who did that. It would be nice to know,” Bruce said.
Marjorie said the obvious lesson of her son’s death is “don’t walk near a train with headphones on.”
Bruce said his son’s accident also shows the fragility of life.
“You just never know when your time might be, or how short life might be. Prepare — you’ve got to have a good faith. Sean was very well prepared in that area, so that’s what makes the whole thing fine, is that I’m going to be able to see him one day.”
Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or firstname.lastname@example.org.