Hamilton County train deaths case file closed

Hamilton County train deaths case file closed

September 21st, 2011 by Beth Burger in News

Sheriff Jim Hammond said the results of the toxicology reports on a man and a woman who were killed by a train effectively ends the investigation. Michael Hennen and Hannah Barnes were killed Aug. 22 when a train hit them while they were lying on the tracks at a farm in Sale Creek.

Photo by Jake Daniels/Times Free Press.

Michael Hennen, 27, and Hannah Barnes, 19

Photo by WRCB-TV Channel 3 /Times Free Press.

The Hamilton County Sheriff's Office is closing the investigation into the deaths of a young man and woman killed by a train after reviewing toxicology reports.

"The toxicology came back as we suspected," Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond said Tuesday at a news conference, noting there were no drugs in the systems of Hannah Barnes and Michael Hennen and alcohol levels in their blood were not remarkable.

Unless new information is brought forward, the Aug. 22 deaths of 19-year-old Barnes and 27-year-old Hennen will remain ruled accidental, he said.

A Norfolk Southern train struck the pair while they were lying on a paved private crossing at the McDonald farm, a Sale Creek property owned by Hennen's family. The train crew had about six seconds or less to respond after seeing them on the tracks about 6 a.m., Hammond said.

"The sheriff's office has no reason to suspect anything. It was a couple of young people out at the wrong place at the wrong time -- a little alcohol in their system," he said. "It was a tragic accident. Unless any evidence comes forward, that's the way it will stand in our official report."

Barnes' blood alcohol level was 0.07 and Hennen's levels were at 0.086, according to toxicology reports released Monday. Under state law, a reading of 0.08 is considered the baseline for a charge of driving under the influence.

Barnes was a waitress and hostess and Hennen was a manager at Hennen's, a family owned restaurant downtown. Both worked late on Aug. 21 and closed the restaurant before heading out to the farm, possibly staying up all night, Hammond said.

Between the alcohol in their system and a lack of sleep, Hammond said it's likely their judgment was somewhat impaired. He said they were "less cognizant of the danger they were placing themselves in."

"It was a very poor choice. Who knows why that spot was selected? It could be because there was dew on the grass," Hammond said.

There will be no prosecution in regard to Barnes' underage drinking, he said.

"She was underage when it comes to the standards for drinking," he said, "but again we're talking about a minimal amount of alcohol. It cost some lives. To what degree it played in the cost of those lives, who will ever know, really?" he said.