By Nathan Prewett
For the Tribune
RIVERSIDE — It didn’t take long to suspect that something was wrong when three Norfolk Southern railroad workers came across a lone car by the tracks at a site in Riverside. They especially didn’t know at first that the small girl inside had been missing from her home in South Carolina for more than 24 hours.
The girl was Heidi Todd, 4. The man asleep in the driver’s side was her accused kidnapper, Thomas Lawton Evans, a man with a previous criminal record who is also accused of assaulting Heidi’s mother.
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Few details have been released on the relationship that the Todd family had with Evans, but it is believed that he forced his way inside their house before allegedly beating the mother and kidnapping the girl.
The mother was later found by police and taken to a hospital for treatment.
Already used to confronting trespassers at the tracks that they work on, the three railroad workers called the authorities after they discovered the car. Police from the Riverside department came to the site and recovered Heidi. Evans is said to have fled the scene before he was eventually captured at the Mississippi line.
The Norfolk Southern railroad workers were present at a press conference today at the Riverside Police Department to talk about the incident. Among the workers was Trussville resident Chris Jackson, who has been at Norfolk Southern for six years and is a track worker. The others were Donnie Peppers, a contractor, and Mark Burk, a 30-year veteran of Norfolk Southern from Oxford.
Wearing their normal work clothes, the three sat at a table and answered questions about what happened yesterday.
“We’re all fathers,” Burk said. “As far as being heroes and stuff like that, we’re heroes everyday to our families. But the real heroes, I think, are guys like Chief [Rick] Oliver.”
Chief Rick Oliver of the Riverside Police Department was at the scene after the authorities were called.
Burk said it was around 3 p.m. when they were driving in vehicles and doing inspections before they discovered the car parked by the tracks. The first suspicions arose when they found that the car had an out of state license plate. They saw the girl and thought that she was alone at first. Peppers found that there was a man asleep in the driver’s side.
When the man didn’t respond, Burk told Jackson that he would call 911. Jackson got close to the parked vehicle began taking pictures of the girl and the suspect. When police arrived at the scene, they held back while officers confronted the man
“We pulled past the vehicle and Mark called 911,” Jackson said. “We backed up and that’s when we got a couple of pictures. We didn’t do any else when the chief and the fire chief walked up. We were far enough back that we didn’t hear the conversation but we could see their actions.”
The police woke Evans and asked him to step out. They began talking to and were able to recover the girl, but Evans jumped back inside and fled from the scene.
“You know, that’s something you don’t see everyday,” Jackson said. “We’d do it again if we had to without a doubt but it’s definitely an experience and it’s something to look for next time we come across a situation like that, to be prepared.”
Jackson has lived in Trussville for 10 years and is married with four children in his household. When asked if they were nervous, Jackson said that he and the others were not as they have encountered trespassers before, although yesterday’s case proved to be much different than what they were used to.
He believes that they were fated to be there that day.
“For us to to be at that place at that time, it was meant to be,” he said.