published Sunday, August 28th, 2011

Investigators await train camera footage

Hamilton County Sheriff's Office investigators comb the site where two people were struck and killed by a train near Sale Creek, Tenn.
Hamilton County Sheriff's Office investigators comb the site where two people were struck and killed by a train near Sale Creek, Tenn.
Photo by Tracey Trumbull /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
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Investigators still are waiting for footage from a Norfolk Southern train’s camera and information from its “black box” to show what happened early Monday morning when two people were killed near a railroad crossing.

The Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office continues to investigate the deaths of 19-year-old Hannah Barnes and 27-year-old Michael Hennen, who were struck on tracks running through the McDonald Farm near Sale Creek. They were hit just after 6 a.m. Monday, authorities say.

Barnes was laid to rest on Friday, and Hennen was buried Thursday.

The county medical examiner’s office completed its initial examinations of the remains, but the reports are being held pending toxicology results and input from investigators who continue to wait for Norfolk Southern to send the train camera’s footage.

The sheriff’s office is the only agency looking into the deaths.

The Tennessee Department of Transportation does not examine safety issues when incidents occur near private railroad crossings, said Jennifer Flynn, spokeswoman for TDOT.

The Federal Railroad Administration is notified within 24 hours when a fatality occurs on a railroad, said Warren Flatau, spokesman for the administration. However, unless the fatality occurs under extenuating circumstances, such as a major train derailment, the federal agency does not become involved, he said.

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When the Norfolk Southern train’s black box — technically known as an event recorder — is made available to investigators, it will give them such details as the time, train speed, brake application and how long the horn was blown.

Hennen was the manager at his family’s restaurant, Hennen’s, located downtown. Barnes worked at the restaurant. Questions remain about why the pair was on the tracks.

Susan Terpay, spokeswoman for Norfolk Southern, said the speed limit on the track is 50 mph. The 12-car train was heading south when the two were struck.

Terpay said the train crew saw something on the tracks and blew the horn.

Trains are not required to blow their horns when approaching private crossings. Norfolk Southern also does not require its crew to sound the horn when approaching private crossings.

That’s something Pamela O’Dwyer, a local attorney who specializes in railroad litigation, would like to see changed in light of last week’s deaths near a private crossing.

Over the course of about an hour around 6:30 a.m. Wednesday, three trains passed along the Norfolk Southern tracks near the McDonald Farm. All three were heading north.

The crews sounded the horn inconsistently at the public crossings. One train blew one short whistle at the public crossing, while the other trains blew a series of whistles approaching the same crossing, following signs on the side of tracks known as “whistle boards” that tell trains when to blow the horn and in what pattern.

O’Dwyer said she believes trains should blow at all crossings, public and private.

“Two longs, a short and a long. Fifteen seconds at all crossings,” she said.

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rolando said...

Sounds like our resident train-chaser is searching for a lawsuit in all the wrong places...or trying to work something up.

She would have it so the horns go on as soon as a train starts moving, kinda sorta like motorcycle headlights...turn on, start blasting [so to speak].

All those people living in hearing distance of the tracks would just love to hear the blast from every lousy train roaring through every 20 minutes or so.

Let's get real, if the crew did blast, it had zero effect. Horns are for vehicle alerts, not pedestrian. Farmer John, with his own crossing, knows about trains and what action to take. Let's not start even more governmental regulation just to please some lawyer.


So what is the NSRR doing with the black box and video? Taking time to edit them or something? Unexplained delays like this are not doing the RR any good in the public eye.

August 28, 2011 at 6:37 a.m.
harrystatel said...

I find it incredulous that six days after the incident that one piece of crucial evidence is still not available. This defies common sense and stinks of unbelievably bad police work, an attempt to alter evidence, or collusion to present a "story" rather than facts.

August 28, 2011 at 6:53 a.m.
chioK_V said...

Unless you're unconcious or passed out cold, it would be near impossible to not feel the vibrations and hear the screaching of the metal train wheels against the train tracks. You can be a block away and sense the rumbling vibration and hear the screaching noise train wheels make on a train track.

August 28, 2011 at 9:01 a.m.
SeaSmokie59er said...

Harry wrote "...stinks of unbelievably bad police work."

Before you start blaming the cops review the laws of evidence.

August 28, 2011 at 10:24 a.m.
joneses said...

The Chattanooga Times Free press should be ashamed for this article. There is no new information so why do they not let the family heal? This attorney would be better off keeping her mouth shut as she is not an expert on railroad crossings. It appears she is trying to create a case for her own profit and she should be ashamed of herself. But then I have never met an atorney who is ashamed of anything.

August 28, 2011 at 10:46 a.m.
harrystatel said...

All the police need to do is have the video subpoenaed. Should have happened the first day if the RR refused.

Of course that requires the DA to act. But I've been waiting on Blind Billy Cox to investigate local government corruption for years.

With the cover-ups in law enforcement I wouldn't be surprised if it has already been viewed.

Police lie all the time; whether local, state or federal. But it's OK as they're the police.

If a citizen lies to police, he goes to jail.

That's just one reason I don't trust Authority Enforcement.

August 28, 2011 at 10:55 a.m.
Momus said...

Harry, what crime was commited to force the DA to request the video?

August 28, 2011 at 11:08 a.m.
harrystatel said...

A crime does not have to be proved beforehand to investigate, particularly a homicide.

For example, ever hear of a coroner's inquest?

I salute the newspaper for not letting the story fade away. If you want "sweeping under the rug," bring back Tom Griscom. He wielded a big broom for his cronies.

August 28, 2011 at 11:21 a.m.
macropetala8 said...

I agree, that unless the victims were unconcious, already dead, drunk or tripping on some type psychodelic drug, there would be no reason for them to be unable to sense the vibrations of a train on the track. I think the sheriff's dept. probably already know something, but due to the victims' family standing in the community, they've gone into coverup mode. I remember the lady hit by a train and killed a year or so ago in a lesser part of town and all the wisecracks posted about her death. Those making wisecracks remarks about her death didn't remotely consider showing compassion for the surviving family members and allowing them to grieve in peace. Weird how our response change to tragic situations depending upon the status and social class of the individual.

August 28, 2011 at 12:50 p.m.
nomorerumorfuel said...

macro: Your accusation about the status and social class of the family is just as insensitive as the "wisecracks posted" that you criticize in your comment. Why don't you "consider showing compassion for the surviving famiily members and allow them to grieve in peace" as you said in your comment. I agree with Joneses, that this entire article is worthless information, only used to fuel more inuindoes and rumors. Shame on you!!!

August 28, 2011 at 1:28 p.m.
harrystatel said...

I find it interesting that requests for silence are made rather than the requests for the truth. Most cover-ups begin the same way.

Remember Pat Tillman? Jessica Lynch?

I find this highly suspicious in more ways than one.

I do hope the families find peace, if that's even possible. But a "peace" based on lies and subterfuge is not a lasting peace.

August 28, 2011 at 1:52 p.m.
rolando said...

Well, leaving this whole thing up in the air and open to public specualtion certainly isn't helping any of the principals in this case. Who, I imagine, wouldn't have read past the headlines here and certainly not into the "Comments" section...not beyond the first few, anyway. So who is kidding whom here by demanding "respect" for the dead?

August 28, 2011 at 2:03 p.m.
LibDem said...

I would expect the Sheriff's Department to remain quiet until all the evidence is available. They probably have a good idea but no reason to speculate.

The railroad has a vested interest in protecting itself by reviewing any evidence before release if for no other reason than preparing for litigation.

Insurance companies, both liability and life, have an interest in determination of cause.

And, of course, the families have some claims to privacy.

Having said all that, what happened to that Palmgren woman?

August 28, 2011 at 2:42 p.m.
bret said...

People are asking, "Why hasn't more info been released?" and "Is this a cover-up?"

For a cover-up to occur, at least one of three things must be happening. 1. The railroad isn't releasing evidence to the police. 2. The police aren't releasing information to the press. 3. The press isn't releasing information to the public.

I vote #2.

Neither the railroad nor the TFP have anything to gain by withholding information. The police could be withholding information to protect the families involved. It is possible that the editor of the TFP might want to protect the families as well, but if that were true then why even run this story?

If what I have heard privately about the case is true then I doubt the public will ever learn the details and that's probably a good thing for everyone.

August 28, 2011 at 3:22 p.m.
harrystatel said...

". . .I doubt the public will ever learn the details and that's probably a good thing for everyone."

That's the line the government uses in cover-ups.

Protect the families? Pat Tillman's case, except the family wanted to know the truth. I'm glad the Tillman family pushed for the truth so we know what liars governments are (not that I had any doubts).

August 28, 2011 at 3:39 p.m.
bret said...

Harry, I am in total agreement about the Pat Tillman and Jessica Lynch cases. However, I think in this case both families know what happened. Releasing the info publicly won't do anything except cause more hurt.

August 28, 2011 at 4:25 p.m.
elkhart007 said...

No, we don't need trains to blow at every single crossing. Trains shouldn't even have to blow at protected crossings. If you're too oblivious to the world not to see or feel a train coming then it was just a matter of time before something else got you.

August 28, 2011 at 4:39 p.m.
ginagirl43 said...

A terrible tragedy. Makes no sense why they were on the tracks unless they were drunk or stoned, or something else happened. Had no business on the tracks for sure.

August 28, 2011 at 4:48 p.m.
Facts said...

Sadly, the railroad folks are likely going over this from every angle because, despite the fact that two adults were on a train track in the pre-dawn hours of the morning, there will likely be every attempt to place the blame somehow on the train operator. With a prominent family involved, it becomes even more likley. They are lawyering up to prepare for the unusual behavior of two adults.

August 28, 2011 at 4:54 p.m.
01centare said...

nomorerumorfuel said... macro: Your accusation about the status and social class of the family is just as insensitive as the "wisecracks posted" that you criticize in your comment

Insensitive or not, nomorerumorfuel, the truth is the truth. Can you even remotely imagine how the sheriff dept., the media and the discussion forums in Chattanooga would have run with this and the wisecrack remarks we've all read or heard, some from the media, if these two were someone from a trailerpark or, god forbid, the 'hood or some immigrant believed to be illegal? The accusations of drug related, gang related and ship'em back to crwod would have been rolling like hot molten volcanic lava.

August 28, 2011 at 5:03 p.m.
Marathon5454 said...

With nothing but respect for the McDonald family and the Hennen family, what is the video supposed to show?

August 28, 2011 at 7:36 p.m.
amnestiUSAF84 said...

Marathon5454, no one is expecting the video to be released for public viewing. The silence is what's suspect. If the tragedy is drug related, this could be an opportunity to teach young people on the dangers of drug abuse. If suicide, this could be an opportunity to bring attention to suicide and young people. Something that's on the rise in America. Believe me, if drug related, and this had taken place in the inner-cities, there would be a crime suppression unit gearing up and preparing to out on a massive arresting spree.

August 28, 2011 at 7:58 p.m.
rolando said...

That's is exactly what all of us want to know, Marathon [well, most all].

If someone is covering up, we want to know who and exactly why. If it is the family -- and they are doing it for personal reasons having nothing to do with drugs, alcohol, or anything illegal -- then more power to them. If they are dirty, I could care less about their "reputation" or how "hurt" they might feel. The public needs to know...so we can avoid their businesses if it comes to that.

No one wants their dirty linen [if there is any] spread all over the Internet; that is perfectly understandable.

But our government, at all levels has lied to us continuously and frequently for no reason other than they can. We can no longer believe anything they say; so we examine what they do...and publish it here on the Internet for all citizens to see.

August 28, 2011 at 8:01 p.m.
bret said...

Rolando, are you really such an insensitive jerk or do you just play one on the internet?

Two families have lost children and you demand to know the details so you can boycott their businesses? Really?

If one of your family members does something stupid, I want to know all about it so I can hold you responsible.

August 28, 2011 at 10:16 p.m.
rolando said...

How you came to that conclusion concerning boycotts, bret, is anyone's guess.

Read it in context; you attempt to bury some illegal act or a particularly onerous one, prepare for the consequences.

The public has a right to know if a law had been broken or political favors granted to avoid repercussion. That indicates corruption in high places. By your words, you evidently support or ignore possible corruption in public office...

Every family has a black sheep somewhere in its bloodline; these families are no different. We all put our pants on one leg at a time.

And if someone in my family did something illegal and it cost them their life -- and made the headlines -- you would be correct in gaining whatever information you could. It certainly wouldn't be buried or covered up...not by me, in any case.

You are evidently demanding the two families disclose private family matters...I am not.

August 29, 2011 at 7:25 a.m.
rosebud said...

You've got to read Roy Exum coming to his family's defense in Chattanoogan.com. Since it was a couple of rich kids he knew, he's determined it was all harmless fun. Just wonderin: if it had been a couple of trespassers on Old McDonald's Farm, Roy would probably be screaming bloody murder. Or if a couple of kids outside Roy's social circle had done the same thing on tracks outside the sacred family farm, he'd write about hallucinatory drugs, gang rituals, loose morals and other evils.

But thanks to Roy, we now know the truth: it was just two great kids, out all night into a Monday morning, catching a few winks on the railroad tracks. Nothin' weird about that. (If you're Roy Exum.)

August 29, 2011 at 8:58 a.m.
KevinOK said...

I am a former Chattanoogan and also a former NYC Prosecutor who is now a litigation defense attorney and partner at firm in NYC. The questions raised by Pam O'Dwyer are good ones. And like any accident, wouldn't you have to know the toxicology of the drivers of the vehicle? I sure would want to if these were my kids. And any suggestion that these families would have any need for a big payday in court is absurd. You can always tell when someone has something to hide by the way they make excuses in turning over basic evidence. Prayers go out to both the families and friends of these kids. Show some respect in your comments.

August 29, 2011 at 2:03 p.m.
tomatoketchup said...

Thanks to rosebud for pointing out the latest article in the chattanoogan: a perfect example of eloquence masking ignorance. That story is just as speculative, if not more so, than the theories proposed on these discussion boards. I don't buy it.

August 29, 2011 at 4:37 p.m.
berly879 said...

"Right to know" vs. "want to know". No one has a right to know exactly what happened on those train tracks in the pre-dawn hours of August 22nd except the families of the two young people who lost their lives & the people who are investigating this tragedy.

The American public is so drenched in media scandal that we seek it out at every oppotunity - Casey Anthoney, O.J. Simpson, etc. - we want to know the details & speculate the outcome. When the details are not produced just when we think they should, we assume a cover-up is involved or that authorities are not doing their job to provide us with the information we think we should have.

As a U.S. citizen, I have a right to privacy, as do the families involved in this horrific, life-altering event. This is the only right that is afforded to all of us & it should be respected. You have to ask yourself, "If this was my child...my family member..." would you want the details, ture or false, all over the headlines. Would you appreciate wild speculation in the comment section this article if you were a grieving parent, sister, uncle? I doubt it.

My deepest heart felt sympathies go out to the families & I hope your heart is healed in knowing He sheppards us all home so that we might sheppard over those we leave behind. They never leave us...those we cary in our hearts.

August 29, 2011 at 9:29 p.m.
berly879 said...

OldMcDonald32, you used a quote which denotes knowledge you have obtained from a 3rd party whom you have yet to reveal. Off the record or not, do you have the right to publish such an alligation without substantiating it? I think it's shameful that you posted this & followed it with "my heart goes out to all members of their families." It is hard to believe you have a heart cosidering the blow you have levied here. Maybe you should check you source to see if they still have a pulse...I should think it unlikely as well. Off the record, I think your post is cruel & disrespectful, tasteless & tactless.

August 29, 2011 at 10:05 p.m.
gozuma22 said...

how can anyone not think something is fishy here-tox said there were not drunk and sd they found no drugs in their system-ok-also this boy knnew the rails were used everday-why would anyone who is not drunk or on drugs and knows the trains come thru often,decide to lay down on the tracks-there were many other place to lay down and rest-this is not something that someone who is in control of their actions would do-simple as that-train engineer also sd they didn't even flinch as the train neared-they would have heard the train and felt the vibrations,long before it was too late to get off the tracks-something is so wrong here! engineer could do nothing to stop in time either-if you are on the tracks and don't move,your'r gonna get hit! there is some explaining to do!!

October 31, 2011 at 1 a.m.
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