Whether in local history or even today we often see that human emotions are certainly timeless and that is especially the case in at times of tragedy. Of course any death is heart rending, but perhaps most catastrophic is the death of a child – and in what some might call a preventable accident.
The headline in the August 18, 1927 Athens Weekly Review told the tragic facts: "Eight Year Old Boy Found Dead in Alley at 10 O'clock This Morning." It began when Mr. R.H. Speake , accompanied by his small son, was driving his team through the alley between Pinkerton Street and the courthouse square. Then the boy alerted his father about another boy who was “sleeping” in a car parked behind the Wallace Music Store. Speake drove on to the rear of Paul’s Cafe where he left his team and went back to take a look. The reporter related, “He saw that he was lifeless and immediately gave the alarm." Another man, C.K. Miller also ran to the scene and related that because the child's body was still warm indicating that death had happened just a short time before. The “sleeping” boy was identified as eight year old Spencer Daniel, son of Troy Daniel, “keeper of the Athens cemetery.”
Justice of the Peace Jeff Davis was called to the scene, and he then summoned Dr. Henderson. The physician then “....stated that the boy had all the symptoms of one that had been electrocuted but said that he could not state positively that that was the cause of his death." There were revival attempts but when that was unsuccessful and boy's body was removed to "Carroll and Lehr undertaking parlor."
The reporter related, "The theory that the boy was electrocuted was based on the fact that his body was found beneath an automobile in which the batteries were being charged from inside the building." Further investigation of the scene revealed that there were two hats found nearby, which seemed to indicate another person had been at the scene.
Justice of the Peace Davis investigated further and then learned that that another boy Gene Johnson has been with Daniel. Gene told his mother that the boys had been playing behind the store when Spencer climbed to the "platform" (perhaps the running board) of the car and caught hold of it. The reporter stated that Spencer“...hollered to the Johnson boy, 'It's killing me, come help me.'" Then when Gene ran up to take hold of his playmate he too felt a shock, which frightened him so much he fled the scene – just a few moments before Mr. Speake came along. At press time Davis was calling in County Attorney Thomas to further investigate.
Then came the result as the August 25, 1927 Review headline read, "Homicide Charge Filed Against Guy Wallace as Result of Boy's Death." A complaint charging Guy Wallace with negligent homicide was filed before JP Jeff Davis by Constable Charley Pharris. "The complaint alleges that the said Wallace in charging his battery 'did not use due precaution and care to prevent other persons from coming in contact with it.'"
At an inquest Judge Davis "rendered the following verdict:' We find that said Spencer Daniels came to his death by coming in contact with a live wire coming from the building at the time he took hold of the car.'"
The boy’s funeral was described in the August 25, 1927 article as drawing many mourners. The reporter related that “Residents of the Holly Springs section report the largest crowd that ever attended a funeral at that graveyard." It was further revealed that "many floral offerings were sent by friends from Athens and the grave was a veritable mound of flowers."
The result of the subsequent trial was related in a headline in a September 29, 1927 Athens Weekly Review: "Verdict of 'Not Guilty' in Wallace Case." The article went on to say, “In the case of State vs. Guy Wallace, which had been on trial since Wednesday, the jury returned a verdict of not guilty. The case went to the jury shortly after noon today and one of the jurors reported that the verdict was reached on the first ballot."
It was surely a sad event that impacted the lives of all involved - the parents of course, eventually the little boy who ran away, and of course the man whose car where the boy died.