published Saturday, February 1st, 2014

Hamilton County jury sees video of train deaths

The 250-ton train was traveling between 38 and 44 miles per hour, gliding on tracks surrounded by trees as its light pierced darkness.

Near a crossing there was a slight flash as the train's light reflected off something on the ground: two bodies, lying mostly on the left side of the track.

And then Michael Hennen and Hannah Barnes were gone.

On Friday, jurors twice watched a silent three-minute, 30-second video clip from the camera on a Norfolk Southern Railway train that struck Hennen and Barnes at 5:50 a.m. on Aug. 22, 2011.

Hannah Barnes' mother, Lisa Barnes, filed a $25 million lawsuit against the Hennen Restaurant Group and the railway after her 19-year-old daughter's death. The trial is being held in Hamilton County Circuit Court Judge Neil Thomas' courtroom.

The pair are barely discernible on the footage. In a previous statement, Hamilton County Medical Examiner James Metcalfe said he watched the footage multiple times and determined the two were embracing on impact. But in court testimony last week he said they were lying with their heads at each other's feet, perpendicular to the tracks.

Lisa Barnes alleges in court documents the train operator didn't brake, flash lights or sound the horn when the operators spotted people on the track.

The rail company is not involved in this trial. Court records indicate the two sides are reaching a settlement.

Barnes alleges that her daughter drank alcohol at Hennen's, where she worked as a server, before spending her last few hours with manager Michael Hennen, the 27-year-old son of restaurant owner Tim Hennen.

The trial began Jan. 21 but was delayed for two days this week by snow. It is scheduled to resume Tuesday.

  • photo
    Jurors look over photos of the late Hannah Barnes while in Judge Neil Thomas III's courtroom during the fifth day of a civil trial in which Barnes (mother of Hannah Barnes) is suing the Hennen Restaurant Group, alleging that her daughter's Aug. 22, 2011 death on train tracks can be attributed to her consuming alcohol at while working at the restaurant hours before. Both Hannah Barnes and Michael Hennen died when a train struck them.
    Photo by Dan Henry /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

The jury was given still shots of the black-and-white video. Those pictures were not shown to the courtroom audience.

Barnes testified Friday about her daughter's energy, kindness and beauty. Her attorneys, C. Mark Warren and John Mark Griffin, showed photographs of Hannah Barnes as a child.

Barnes' lip quivered, her hands shook and she repeatedly dabbed away tears as she spoke.

"Every time we go over a railroad track I picture the way she was killed and try to block it out, but I can't," she testified.

Under cross-examination by Al Henry, the Hennens' attorney, Barnes denied ever seeing her daughter drink and said she never provided alcohol to her children.

Teal Orr, Hannah Barnes' sister, also testified, sharing a six-minute smartphone video Hannah had taken of the pair driving to Target, singing along to the song "Party Rockers in the House Tonight" by the band LMFAO.

Orr testified that she had seen her sister drink only twice -- one beer at their mother's 2008 wedding and two beers at a cookout at a friend's house.

Early in the trial, Barnes' attorneys showed evidence that samples taken by Metcalfe showed Michael Hennen had a blood alcohol level of 0.08 and Hannah Barnes had a level of 0.07.

The legal limit for impaired driving in Tennessee is .08.

But Henry called a forensic toxicologist expert Friday, Alphonse Poklis, who testified that the way Metcalfe took the sample could have contaminated it.

Because the blood was taken after death and the bodies were mangled, he said it's possible that undigested alcohol in the body mixed with blood taken in the sample, which could raise the level.

"An eyedropper of Budweiser in 5 mL of blood can raise that blood sample .05," he said. "There are 5,400 drops of beer in a can of beer."

Contact staff writer Todd South at tsouth@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6347. Follow him on Twitter @tsouthCTFP.

about Todd South...

Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...

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