BANGKOK — An American expat in Thailand who is a YouTube star with 3.29 million subscribers is in hot water for posting a video of an age-old practice among kids: flattening coins on railroad tracks.

Nathan Bartling, whose YouTube series is called “My Mate Nate,” was detained by police after a news conference with railway officials Monday in which he said he would try to make amends by promoting Thailand’s state railway. Police charged him with railway obstruction, trespassing and damaging railway property.

The former Mormon missionary, who says he’s 24, had already taken down the video after an online hubbub claiming he risked derailing a train.

Bartling said he checked about the possibility of derailing the train before he and his production team shot the video.

The myth-busting website snopes.com and popular science blogs agree that a coin won’t derail a train, though there is the possibility the coin could fly off and injure someone. The biggest danger is that the person placing the coins could be hit by a train. Several deaths have been blamed on the practice.

Bartling is from Chino Hills, California, according to his Facebook profile. He also has an English-language YouTube series promoting Thai tourism, but with nowhere near the popularity of “My Mate Nate,” in which he speaks Thai. Westerners in Thailand who speak the language fluently can sometimes parlay the ability into a money-making entertainment gig, attaining a sort of freak-show celebrity status.

The “My Mate Nate” series has had other controversial episodes, such as seeing if his cat could fly by tying it to some balloons and having two cats fight a scorpion, and stunt for which police are also investigating him under an animal cruelty law. He has taken down those videos as well.

At the news conference with railway officials, Bartling apologized for his wrongdoing, saying “I will do my best to be a good role model.”

State Railway of Thailand Deputy Tanongsak Pongprasert said the key lesson from the episode should be that “minors should not imitate this kind of behavior.”

More than 62,000 people, mostly Thais, have signed an online petition to be submitted to the Thai government to cancel Bartling’s visa and forbid him from entering the country again.

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KANKANIT WIRIYASAJJA
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