They sat in the Criminal Court gallery Thursday, arms wrapped around each other, elbows on their knees, one man with his mouth covered by his hand, which he moved only to wipe his tears.
And when the verdict came, finding Benjamin Scott Brewer, 42, guilty of 12 crimes in the deadly June 25, 2015, crash on Interstate 75 that killed six people, some survivors and victims' families nodded, as though it was the only thing in the world that made sense.
For them, there is no getting back Jason Ramos, 36; Brian Gallaher, 37; Tiffany Watts, 31; Sandra Anderson, 50; Kelsie Garrigues, 11; and Savannah, her 9-year-old sister.relatedarticlethumb
"I'm glad for the families. But as you can imagine, with such an enormous loss of life, it's still a very sad day," Hamilton County District Attorney General Neal Pinkston said after the verdict. "It's very emotional. [The families] are all taking it different ways."
After four days in court, the families declined to comment and walked to their cars while Brewer went back to his jail cell, where he has already sat for two and a half years. Now that he's been convicted, Brewer faces serving up to 72 years in a Tennessee prison at his March 12 sentencing hearing.
Jurors deliberated about six hours Thursday, delivering their decision at 4:15 p.m. Since Monday, they listened to prosecutors say Brewer ignored construction signs and crashed into stand-still traffic, never once tapping his brakes for 453 feet, because he was impaired by methamphetamine.
"Four hundred and fifty-three feet — over a football field and a half — that you will hear smelled like spilled gasoline and smoke and burning flesh," prosecutor Crystle Carrion told jurors during opening statements.
But Brewer's public defenders said he was never intoxicated and prosecutors were cherry-picking facts to fit their case.
No officers on the scene documented that Brewer appeared under the influence, he never showed signs of someone who'd ingested a stimulant, and a state toxicologist admitted to contaminating Brewer's blood test, which tested positive for methamphetamine but never distinguished between an illicit substance or something over-the-counter that contained trace amounts of the drug, they argued.
Defense attorney Mike Little thanked jurors for their hard work after Thursday's verdict but said his team plans to file an appeal.
"We think we have some serious issues for appeal," he said. "And we will be filing an appeal when the time is right."
Brewer, who remains in the Hamilton County Jail, is guilty of six counts of vehicular homicide, four counts of reckless aggravated assault and one count each of speeding and driving under the influence.
His most serious charge, vehicular homicide by way of intoxication, is a Class B felony that carries eight to 30 years. At his sentencing hearing, Judge Don Poole will have to decide how much time to give Brewer based on the proof attorneys present.
June 25, 2015: Brewer crashes into slowed traffic on Interstate 75, is detained on scene and given a drug test and is allowed to return to Kentucky. Six die and several others are injured.
Aug. 3, 2015: A Hamilton County grand jury indicts Brewer on charges of vehicular homicide, reckless aggravated assault, driving under the influence of a narcotic, speeding and violation of motor carrier regulations. He is extradited to Tennessee shortly thereafter.
September 2015: Brewer makes his first court appearance and receives a court-appointed defense attorney. Crash victims have begun filing personal injury lawsuits.
October 2016: As the case winds through court, the National Transportation Safety Board releases its final report and concludes driver fatigue and drug use led to the nine-vehicle crash.
February 2017: Brewer’s attorneys ask to suppress several pieces of evidence, including his blood test, saying officers detained him on scene without a warrant.
May 2017: Judge Don Poole rules against that request but says jurors don’t need to hear about some of the miscellaneous items in Brewer’s tractor-trailer. Attorneys also agree not to mention Brewer’s prior employment or drug history.
June 12, 2017: Attorneys travel to Nashville to pick an out-of-town jury, agreeing that extensive media coverage has made Chattanoogans too biased to hear the case.
June 2017: Right before trial on June 17, defense attorneys learn that a federal lab in Oklahoma also tested Brewer’s blood and found a different level of methamphetamine than the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation reported back in 2015.
June 19, 2017: Judge Poole cancels the trial and sets a new date on Sept. 25 to give defense attorneys more time to investigate the second test.
September 2017: Brewer’s defense say government attorneys want to block their effort to call a federal employee to the witness stand to explain the second test. They reach an agreement to depose the employee beforehand, but Poole has to cancel the Sept. 25 date.
October 2017: The judge resets the trial date to Jan. 22 and says attorneys will pick a new jury from Nashville.
Jan. 18, 2018: Attorneys pick a 16-person jury, with four alternates, after a day of questioning.
Jan. 22, 2018: Proceedings started Monday in Hamilton County Criminal Court Division III. Jurors will be sequestered throughout the week to avoid outside communication.
Jan. 25, 2018: Jury convicts Ben Brewer of the 12 criminal charges he faced in the 2015 wreck on Interstate 75 that killed six.
This story was updated Thursday, Jan. 25, 2018, at 11:59 p.m. with more information.