PARKERSBURG - Nearly four decades following his unexpected death, Byron Caudill's gravestone was dedicated Sunday in Mount Olivet Cemetery.
"This is wonderful," said Jennifer Caudill Howard, sister of the deceased young man. "I am sure he's in heaven right now, smiling down on us today."
About a dozen friends joined Howard and Caudill's stepsister, Betsy Barger Alderman, for the memorial with a service officiated by the Rev. L. Norman Butler.
Jennifer Caudill Howard, sister of Byron Caudill, takes a photo of her brother’s headstone Sunday at the graveside memorial service in Mount Olivet Cemetery for the 18-year-old who died in a car accident on July 7, 1974. (Photo by Jolene Craig)
"I was here that day in July 1974, at the church and here beside the grave," said Butler who has been retired about 20 years. "I also brought the same Bible - it is now held together by tape, but it was part of that day."
Caudill was interred in the cemetery following his death at age 18 on July 7, 1974. A Parkersburg native, Caudill had been a passenger in a car that crashed into a tree along Belpre's Blennerhassett Avenue. He was the only fatality of the accident while the six other teenagers in the vehicle were seriously injured. At least three of those who survived have since died.
Butler's son, Philip A. Butler, was the driver of the car.
"A lot of Byron's friends and their families suffered and a lot of grief in the community was because of the crash," said Alderman. "I want us to come together to heal and make connections with others who loved Byron."
Alderman, who was 16 years old when her stepbrother died, said she is pleased to have helped mark Caudill's final resting place.
"A friend of mine called me several months ago and said Byron's grave marker was missing and I wanted to make sure he had a proper stone," said Alderman, a Parkersburg native who now lives in Chattanooga, Tenn. "I am glad we were able to do this."
Caudill's friend Tom Winans attended the service and said as a teenager he and the other man had been good friends.
"I think about him quite a lot," Winans said. "He is never out of the picture, no matter how long he has been gone."
Following the service, those who attended the graveside ceremony went to City Park for a picnic where Caudill had spent countless hours playing basketball.
According to the July 8, 1974, newspaper accounts, Philip A. Butler, 17, of 2020 17th St., Parkersburg, was driving a 1968 Chrysler Plymouth on Blennerhassett Avenue in Belpre in when the accident occurred.
The car, packed with teens, made a turn too sharply and hit a tree broadside. The article stated the car skidded out of control for "some distance" before striking the tree, according to law enforcement officials who spoke with the newspaper.
Belpre volunteers and St. Joseph's ambulance crews arrived on the scene, according to reports.