Teen car wreck victim finally identified 40 years after plunging to his death in Alabama river

Published 9:34 pm Tuesday, November 2, 2021

A young hitchhiker who died in a car crash in 1961 in Alabama and was buried in a grave marked “UNKNOWN” has finally been identified through DNA testing, officials said.

Killed when a vehicle from which he’d accepted a ride crashed and plunged into the Cahaba River, the hitchhiker didn’t have any identification and clues to his identity were few. Community members raised money for his burial, and a tombstone was engraved with the date of the wreck: March 27, 1961.

The mystery of the person’s identity nagged at some, and a crew exhumed remains from the grave to obtain samples for testing in 2016 because of advances in testing and genealogical identification through DNA. The body was then reburied.

“Our current coroner, CW West, was able to retrieve the fragments we had,” and they were sent to the forensic genealogists at Identifinders International, said Bibb County Sheriff Jody Wade told WBRC-TV.

West said the researchers used the DNA to confirm the remains to be those of 15-year-old Daniel Paul “Danny” Armantrout, born Dec. 28, 1945, in Miami, al.com reported.

The teen’s parents, Alfred Valentine Armantrout and Virginia Leocadie Berner, had divorced when Danny was young and Berner had remarried another man. A team tracked down a cousin and a brother who believes Danny was trying to hitchhike to California to enlist the Army when he was picked up in Alabama and killed in the crash.

The brother was “very emotional” at learning what happened to Danny, West said. He and his wife are planning to travel to Alabama.

“He wants to come up and have a memorial service and meet some of the people who worked behind the scenes to locate his brother,” said West.

Community members will decide whether to add Armantrout’s name to the tombstone on his grave.